Peruse the publicly available security clearance denial decisions at the Departments of Defense or Energy and one quickly notices a pattern: case after case where applicants failed to produce sufficient evidence to support their claims.

Most of those cases fall under Guideline F – the financial considerations criteria – and a great many could have been prevented by simply keeping better or more organized records. But other case types are also impacted by poor record-keeping and disorganization, including: applicants who can’t locate vital records pertaining to completion of substance abuse treatment; applicants who failed to obtain paperwork pertaining to a contested prior job termination; and applicants whose evidence of other mitigating factors simply disappears.

For some fortunate applicants, the problem is fixable with merely a phone call to a prior treatment provider or a trip to the local courthouse clerk. Yet those who aren’t as fortunate pay a painful price for their poor record-keeping habits or disorganization. Without documentary evidence to support a defense, applicants often fail to meet their burden of proof in demonstrating that the grant or continuance of a security clearance is clearly consistent with the interests of national security. The result is the loss of one’s career and livelihood.

Organized chaos…or just plain chaos?

Personally, I’ve always had a difficult time understanding disorganization; I can’t live with clutter and have minimalist tendencies. I also keep scrupulous records of important transactions and activities – all digitized and organized, of course.

Nonetheless, I also recognize that some people seemingly can’t live without clutter – either because they have other priorities or a different outlook on physical “stuff” (for an extreme version of the latter, check out the TV show “Hoarders”) – and some of those same people can still stay “organized” even if in organized chaos.

The problems begin when that organized chaos or poor record-keeping snowballs into sheer disorganization, which then often leads to, for example, bills not being paid, tax returns not being timely filed, or critical records being buried in piles of extraneous paper, never to be found again.

Don’t let messiness make you a security clearance statistic

If any of this sounds familiar, one need only read a few DoD or DOE decisions to recognize the writing on the wall. Smart security clearance holders take proactive steps to avoid becoming a statistic in such situations. Here, that could include: purchasing a scanner and external hard drive to digitize important records for posterity; calendaring-in important dates like Tax Day, appointments with a probation officer, or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings; and automating bill payments so as to not incur late fees or collections activity.

Everyone’s personal situation is different, but the extent to which disorganization and poor record-keeping impact security clearances is both astounding and avoidable. It is always easier to prevent a problem than react to one.


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

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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