Employment pre-screening is a controversial topic. But for the federal government, and many defense industry employers, you will likely be asked to complete some form of federal suitability paperwork before even being asked to fill out an SF86, the application to obtain a security clearance.

A comment on the ClearanceJobsBlog Discussions site recently asked about a common phrase on contract and federal suitability questionnaires:

Do you have the ability to obtain a U.S. Security Clearance for which the U.S. Government requires U.S. Citizenship?  – Can someone please elaborate on exactly what is meant here by “ability to obtain?”

Like every aspect of the federal security clearance process, the question will get you in the most trouble if you overthink it. You’re best to take the question in chunks: 1. Are you a U.S. citizen (a security clearance requirement)? This is the crux of the question. You must be a U.S. citizen to obtain a security clearance. You may be a naturalized citizen, but you can’t be an illegal immigrant or green card holder.

Outside of citizenship, there is only one thing that is an automatic disqualifier for obtaining a federal security clearance – that is current, ongoing use of an illegal drug. That’s thanks to the Bond Amendment, which became law in 2008. The Bond Amendment outlined four restrictions specific to anyone applying for eligibility to access restricted data. The four criteria are criminal conviction resulting in a prison sentence over 1 year; a person discharged from the military under dishonorable conditions, a person who is criminally incompetent, or a person who is addicted to a controlled substance.

In practice, waivers have been granted in each of these instances except for the continuous, ongoing use of illicit drugs. That’s one issue adjudicators have thus far been unwilling to budge on. The updated SF86 further clarifies the government’s disapproval of any illegal drugs (including marijuana) by clarifying it applies federal, not state, marijuana laws when adjudicating clearances.

Back to the original question – how should you answer an employment questionnaire that includes a similar qualifier? Unless you’re not a U.S. citizen or you are an ongoing drug user, the answer is ‘yes.’ Don’t bother to research the other adjudicative criteria and try to ascertain your chance of obtaining a security clearance. Adjudicators consider the ‘whole person,’ so for almost any issue you might encounter, your clearance can still be obtained if you’ve mitigated the potentially disqualifying issue.

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Lindy Kyzer is the editor of ClearanceJobs.com. She loves the NISPPAC, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email lindy.kyzer@clearancejobs.com. Interested in writing for ClearanceJobs.com? Learn more here.