The following is a submission from a ClearanceJobs reader. Have your own unique, great or nightmarish clearance story? Email it to email@example.com.
In my last post I talked about what my experience was like obtaining a top secret government clearance. If you read that post, great, then you know it wasn’t smooth skies… in fact it took a year and a half to get my initial clearance. Once your clearance has been adjudicated (green light from the government), you are good to go for five years with a Top Secret clearance. Somewhere around the four-and-a-half year mark, you should be notified by your facility security officer (FSO) that you are due for a five year periodic reinvestigation (PR). You will be contacted by an agent from the National Background Investigation Bureau (NBIB). They will set up a meeting with you to go over any changes to your security paperwork you filled out five years prior. Generally, this is pretty much an easy process, if you don’t have any changes in the past five years. If you’ve divorced/separated/married, had kids, moved to a new house, adopted a kid, have someone living with you that didn’t before, had financial issues, you will have thing to talk about with the investigator. First and foremost, when you meet the investigator, make sure they show you’re their badge and it’s legit, they should volunteer this.
After meeting with the investigator, that’s all you have to do. The ball is now in the NBIB court and they will go to work investigating any changes you listed in your paperwork since your initial clearance – yep, get that SF-86 back out! When the investigation is complete, it will go into adjudication for a yes or no. If it’s a yes, then you are good for another five years. If it’s a no, they will either tell you flat out you can’t have a clearance anymore (via a Statement of Reasons, which you can appeal). That’s it… easy. That’s where my story kicks in. It was a nightmare for me, and I’m going to share with you what happened during my fourth five-year PR (yes, I’ve held a clearance for over 20 years, and that’s part of why this is a nightmare experience).
Time for My 5-year Periodic reinvestigation
Now, let me reiterate… I’ve had a clearance for 20 years, former military and worked for just about every three-letter government agency in the D.C. metro area. The red flags popped up for me when it had been 6 years and I hadn’t been notified by anyone about a five year PR. At the seven year mark, I was notified I needed to get a 5-year PR… THE 7 YEAR MARK! At the time I was working as a federal contractor for a large well known software vendor. I met with an investigator at my company’s HQ in one of their conference rooms, and the meeting went on for eight hours… no exaggeration. I guess since it had been seven years there was more to talk about. It didn’t help that I’d moved twice in seven years, so there was that. At the end of our meeting, the investigator said she had all she needed and we shook hands and went our separate ways.
Fast forward three years, no contact from the OPM, NBIB, or my investigator. My FSO hadn’t heard anything either – complete silence. It was as if my paperwork was sucked into black hole or wandered into a deep dark forest never to be seen again. It didn’t help that during this time, the Edward Snowden thing went down, and I think that’s where things went haywire for all investigations. Contractors were being more scrutinized than they had before. A year or so after Snowden, the OPM was hacked and millions of security clearance holders info was stolen, SSNs, addresses, phone numbers, everything you put down on the SF-86 was now in the wind. It was a nightmare for everyone.
Walked Out of the Building
Still working for the software vendor, I relocated to the West Coast and took one of their openings to support a federal client in need of an onsite contractor. After about 6 months of working at the site, I walked in one day, sat down at my desk and logged into my workstation. After punching “log on” I was met with an error that said “your account has been disabled, contact your security office.” Huh?? I wandered down the hall to check with my local security guy, and he said, “I’m sorry… I have to escort you out of the building, your background investigation is way overdue.” Just like that, I was escorted out to the parking lot, and my badge was taken. I called my supervisor and told him what happened, he called the FSO, the FSO called the OPM… and they confirmed it, my investigation was way overdue, and the government agency I was supporting couldn’t renew my access until it was fully adjudicated.
Thankfully, I had a good skill set and my company put me to work, but it was on a travelling basis. I went to a situation where I would fly out on Sunday night, and fly back on Friday night. I was convinced, and my company was convinced, this would only be a short interruption and I could get back to work shortly. A full year later, I was still travelling, flying in on Friday night, flying out on Sunday night. I lost a year of my life, missed kids sports games, track meets, violin recitals, you name it, I missed it. To make matters worse, at the end of that year, about a week before Christmas… I suffered a freak heart attack… I’m only 38 years old. The stress of all the travel plus the job status limbo really stressed me out and I believe that’s what pushed me over the edge. I got better, felt better, and was ready to get back on the road working, when I got a call from my boss that I was being laid off! They claimed it was a “business realignment” I think it was because they lost faith in my clearance being adjudicated again. So there I was, no job, just out of the hospital and still no clearance.
Send in the congressional Calvary
Since I got no help from my company FSO, or the OPM/NBIB, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I found a new job in the meantime, pretty quickly, actually, and that I was thankful for. I wrote letters to both of my state senators and congressmen. I requested that they open a congressional query into my case (yes, you can do that) and that they find out what’s going on. They were able to find out my paperwork sat idle for an entire 13 months. I pictured it on the bottom of a stack of papers with a coffee mug and half eaten donut with sprinkles on top of the stack. I was furious, and to my surprise, so were my congressmen. My senator’s office called me and told me they were running the show now, and that OPM/NBIB had to update them twice a month on the progress of my investigation. Two months after I requested a congressional inquiry, bingo, my clearance was fully adjudicated and I was cleared for six more years, six!
Turns out, the OPM/NBIB have been backlogged with paperwork with all that’s gone on, and my paperwork just sat idle. So that’s my 5 year PR nightmare… I’ll remind you that I’ve never had this happen in 20+ years, hopefully this was the only time it will happen. I’m pretty boring, and my paperwork should have been a rubber stamp. I hope my experience will help you understand where things stand with investigations and to get involved early and often in making sure your case is being worked when it’s time for your PR. Stay on top of it, don’t rely on others to notify you when your PR is due, be proactive and you should be able to avoid my situation altogether.