Among the issues with the months long delays in the current background investigation process is the conundrum about what to do if you’re already employed with another company.
Delays have actually made many employers less hesitant to onboard an applicant before a successful security clearance determination. But that means some applicants find themselves in serious limbo during the waiting period. There are several issues that can come up – a candidate may find a completely different position in the waiting period, and decide to simply accept the new job (and say goodbye to a government career). Or an applicant may wonder what to do about their current employer being contacted – and when or if that might happen.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) officially cautions security clearance applicants that their current employer will be contacted in the course of the security clearance investigation. In practice, this may not happen at the Secret level. Yes, the government will likely seek to confirm your employment but you shouldn’t expect a background investigator to show up at your office. For Top Secret security clearance investigations, however, you may very likely find your supervisor on the other end of an investigator’s phone call, or even have an investigator show up at your workplace.
What should you do?
The best advice is generally to be up front. If you’re working in a non-government position, you can relay how you applied for this other position (possibly months ago), and that you are still awaiting a successful background investigation – which may or may not lead to a job, or you accepting the job.
You can improve your chances of a smooth transition by providing clarification in your SF86 – use the additional comments section to indicate that your current supervisor doesn’t know you’re currently looking for a job, and consider providing the information of both a coworker you trust, and a human resources office who can officially confirm your employment. Often, it’s not necessarily required for the background investigator to contact your current supervisor, and if you provide clarification and enough other resources for your background investigator, you may find them quite sympathetic to your situation.
Additionally, don’t expect the background investigator to spill any details about the position you’ve applied with, or even the agency you may be working for. Any questions a background investigator has will reflect directly back to the adjudicative criteria, and the information you’ve already provided in your SF86. You get to decide what you share about the position you’ve applied to; that won’t be a part of the background investigator’s questions.
Does your current employer have any obligation to understand where you’re coming from, or keep you on even though it’s clear you’ve been looking elsewhere? Unfortunately, no. But, in general, honesty is the best policy, particularly because trustworthiness is a critical criteria for access to classified information.