Presidential Support Duties: The Suitability and Evaluation of White House Contractors

Government

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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to freely roam the halls of the White House complex, Camp David, or a President’s vacation retreat? As it turns out, you don’t necessarily need to be a political appointee or a wealthy donor to make that happen. Merely working for a government contractor might get you the opportunity one day.

There are a surprisingly large number of positions deemed “presidential support” roles that the government actually contracts out – including facilities management, IT support, communications, and food service duties. But, as you may be able to imagine, the vetting criteria are strict and not even holding a security clearance necessarily makes any applicant a suitable candidate.

The White House conducts its own clearance assessment for all candidates with staff-like access, issuing in favorable cases what is termed a “Yankee White” or “YW” clearance where access to classified information is required. DoD makes the clearance determination in other cases. In addition, an obscure DoD Instruction (5210.87) requires that DoD’s Consolidated Adjudications Facility make a determination in the case of DoD contractors – the majority of contractors performing presidential support duties – that the applicant is “most suitably qualified” for the role. If an unfavorable preliminary finding is made, the applicant is issued a Statement of Reasons, just as s/he would be in a security clearance denial case, that allows the applicant to respond and potentially mitigate the concerns. Those working directly for the White House Military Office (WHMO) may be subject to a separate suitability review processed by that office.

Interestingly, DoD’s Executive Secretary – an obscure official with no other security-related duties – is the final authority to approve or disprove individuals for presidential support duties, except for those who require access to the White House complex. There is no right to appeal a non-selection to the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA), nor is a non-selection considered the denial of a security clearance.

The criteria under which an individual is evaluated for presidential support duties does differ substantively from the National Adjudicative Guidelines for Security Clearances. For example, imposition of punishment under Article 15, UCMJ for a minor offense may be sufficient for a suitability denial, whereas it generally would not constitute a bar to receiving a security clearance. Anyone challenging a non-selection for presidential support duties should carefully review the suitability criteria and understand the salient differences.

Ultimately, the process and criteria for evaluating presidential support duty candidates is governed by an overarching theme not present in traditional security clearance adjudications: whether there is anything about the applicant that could embarrass the president. In today’s world, minor indiscretions that were once private can quickly become major embarrassments as a result of social media. Moreover, issues that may indicate a lack of discretion or judgment – for example, an illicit affair – can be viewed as a potential embarrassment to the president even if traditional security concerns like blackmail potential are absent.

If you are contemplating a position designated as presidential support, be sure to do your homework ahead of time on the suitability expectations to avoid needless problems with your employer.

 

This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

Security Clearance Attorney Sean M. Bigley represents clients worldwide in security clearance denials and revocations. He is a former investigator for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. For more information, please visit www.bigleylaw.com

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