As far back as this author is aware, security clearance holders have always been required to “self-report” certain issues of adjudicative significance occurring between regularly scheduled background investigations.

Until recently, however, considerable ambiguity existed as to what those reportable issues were. With perhaps the uniform exceptions of an arrest or contact by a suspected foreign intelligence operative, federal agencies published varying guidance. Some agencies punished clearance holders for failing to self-report, while others largely ignored the requirement even when adjudicating a periodic reinvestigation that uncovered derogatory information.

The confusion was addressed with the publication of Security Executive Agent Directive (SEAD) 3 by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). SEAD-3 established for the first-time government-wide self-reporting requirements for information of adjudicative significance. It was a long-overdue effort and one which has eliminated much of the guesswork for security clearance holders facing the prospect of self-reporting. Nonetheless, where SEAD-3 excels in addressing what to report it fails in explaining how the clearance holder is expected to notify his or her agency.

For Department of Defense contractors, that omission – and a lack of supplemental guidance from DoD – can actually be exploited in the clearance holder’s favor. That’s because, although the easiest means of self-reporting is through one’s Facility Security Officer, who then notifies DoD via an incident report in the Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS)[1], nothing explicitly requires the clearance holder to report this way. And any clearance holder who has heard the nightmares and career-ending horror stories of a simple JPAS incident report will immediately recognize the value of a work-around.

Reasons to Avoid JPAS Incident Reports

The problem with JPAS incident reports is that they are often left to languish by DoD’s Consolidated Adjudications Facility for months or even years; I’ve personally seen one case where an incident report sat un-adjudicated for five (5) years. All the while, the clearance holder may be seeking out other cleared career opportunities and being rejected for consideration because the prospective employer either doesn’t understand that an incident report isn’t a security clearance suspension or they simply don’t want to hire someone who may ultimately lose their clearance on the basis of the report. Even minor or objectively ridiculous incident reports can often be job-killers. Add a loss of jurisdiction (i.e. a job resignation or termination) and now the incident report has effectively become a scarlet letter that serves as a significant barrier to obtaining cleared employment elsewhere.

The alternative to this mess is to simply self-report the information directly to DoD’s Consolidated Adjudications Facility via a written memorandum that is snail-mailed in for review. My office routinely does this with clients, and we’ve never heard a peep out of anyone at DoD in complaint. For the price of a postage stamp and a bit of extra time, going about one’s self-report this way may help avoid tremendous headaches down the road. It also establishes a clear record of what, precisely, one self-reported instead of playing telephone with DoD through a third party which might result in key details or mitigating information being lost in translation.

As always, however, security clearance holders should bear in mind that information provided to the government can have many uses – most of which are not helpful to the provider. Before locking him or herself into statements, a recitation of facts, or a defense, the smart security clearance holder seeks competent legal counsel for advice and assistance.


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

[1] JPAS was officially scheduled to be replaced by a new system known as “DISS” in May 2018. However, we are advised that the old system will remain operational – and tied to DISS – through at least the end of 2018. We also anticipate DISS having a similar “incident reporting” function.

Related News

Sean M. Bigley retired from the practice of law in 2023, after a decade representing clients in the security clearance process. He was previously an investigator for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (then-U.S. Office of Personnel Management) and served from 2020-2024 as a presidentially-appointed member of the National Security Education Board. For security clearance assistance, readers may wish to consider Attorney John Berry, who is available to advise and represent clients in all phases of the security clearance process, including pre-application counseling, denials, revocations, and appeals. Mr. Berry can be found at