The partial federal government shutdown has raised concerns in some quarters that employees who struggle financially due to lost paychecks could lose their security clearances as well.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said earlier this month that employees who go unpaid during the shutdown could have trouble paying their bills, which could hurt their credit rating. Poor credit scores, in turn, could harm their ability to obtain or maintain a clearance, he said.
In a Jan. 11 letter, Warner urged the heads of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to take steps to avert such problems.
“While I understand that departments and agencies have discretion to consider broader factors that may affect credit (like a government shutdown), I ask you to issue clear and public guidance that departments and agencies may in no way penalize employees’ clearances or determinations of trustworthiness if their credit is effected by the shutdown,” Warner wrote. “This guidance should apply to any information used in an initial clearance, a periodic reinvestigation or a continuous evaluation program.”
Industry and Congress Share Security Clearance Concerns
In a Jan. 24 statement, six trade associations, including the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), endorsed Warner’s effort.
“We join Senator Warner in urging the Administration to issue guidelines ensuring that agencies do not penalize employees if their finances are negatively impacted by the loss of paychecks during this government shutdown,” the groups wrote. “We further urge the administration to specifically include federal contractor employees in any guidance issued.”
The other associations are the Industrial Security Working Group, the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, the Northern Virginia Technology Council and the Professional Services Council.
The Trump Administration is trying to allay those concerns. In a Jan. 18 letter to Warner, OPM Acting Director Margaret Weichert sought to assure him that the clearance process already takes into account financial difficulties that some employees may experience due to no fault of their own.
Weichert noted that OPM has updated guidance on its website “to let applicants know that circumstances related to the shutdown furlough will be considered, as applicable, during the background investigation adjudication process.”
Warner, however, is not satisfied by OPM’s response, according to the senator’s spokeswoman, Rachel Cohen.
“While we appreciate the response restating existing policy, it did not address the specific concerns that Senator Warner raised in his letter,” Cohen said Jan. 24. “The Administration should issue unambiguous guidance directing agencies not to penalize employees’ clearances if their credit suffers due to this destructive government shutdown.”