Depending on the situation, cancel culture has different contexts. The most basic definition means to shame or call out, especially on social media, a person for an unpopular or unpolitically correct position. Cancel culture exists in the realms of politics, the entertainment world, business and industry, and even government. For the purposes of this article, the focus is on cancel culture in the government space.

Cancel culture can happen when a person is offered a job and they’re in the process of being vetted, but just as often it happens if someone is caught doing something that offends or maligns someone in their profession.

Government contractors aren’t immune from cancel culture. In a realm where opinions are often public and criticism can be swift and fierce, some may find their careers cancelled before they get off the ground.


In August 2017 a multi-day rally in Charlottesville, VA ultimately ended in the death of a young woman. Taking part in the rally was Michael Miselis, an aerospace engineering student at the University of California, Los Angeles, with a government security clearance. Miselis’ identity was discovered after media and anti-hate group investigators worked to identify and expose participants of the rally. At the time, Miselis was working for a prominent defense contracting company, and was ultimately fired.

Paul Hoiland, a retired Army Reserve Major who has worked with contractors, gave his opinion via email:

“When I think of the current Cancel Culture and its impacts, I think of allegations of misconduct that never would’ve surfaced in a security clearance background investigation because they are either not there or were never known to background investigators.

If an allegation is made against a service member or government employee, their clearances are suspended pending the outcome of an official investigation. And once a contractor cannot perform his or her duties, they are quickly replaced with another who can.

The U.S. government – including DOD — makes the terms and conditions of good standing crystal clear, and they reinforce it on an annual basis, and even more if necessary. If you violate the terms of your employment or security obligations, the penalties are clearly understood and the punishment is as you were first advised.”

OFF-DUTY CONDUCT and your security clearance

Security clearance holders should take careful notes from cancel culture. If misconduct by a contractor is discovered, as was the case with Miselis, it is almost a given they will have a difficult time working in the defense industry again, and their clearance may be revoked indefinitely.

Numerous government agencies and department have memorandums clearly stating that federal employees are responsible for their off-duty conduct.

From a U.S. Department of Justice memorandum, dated January 2016:

“The recent participation of some federal employees in a range of activities that have brought discredit on the government raises concerns about the level of awareness on the part of Department employees regarding every employee’s obligation to refrain from off-duty conduct that may negatively impact their ability to perform their jobs or distract from the Department’s mission. The following sets forth the basis for expectation that Department employees will comport themselves appropriately on and off the job; explains the legal foundation for the principle that off-duty conduct may be grounds for discipline; and gives examples of off-duty activities that have resulted in employee discipline.”

Specific off-duty misconduct mentioned in the memorandum includes:

  • Sexual misconduct, including trafficking in persons
  • Racist or sexist remarks, or conduct
  • Threats against coworkers or supervisors
  • Fraud


Most important to clearance holders, prohibited conduct may be grounds for suspension and revocation of a clearance. In the case of a government contractor, revocation or suspension of a clearance means loss of ability to work.

Security and program managers working for defense contracting firms have a critical responsibility in training and ensuring contractors understand the gravity and implications of current self reporting and insider threat reporting requirements. Cancel culture may have a specific stigma, but it’s a reminder of something those in the national security industry know – behavior that causes lost trust and respectability, or displays poor judgment, reflects on the government agency, the company, and the individual.

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Diana M. Rodriguez is a native Washingtonian who works as a professional freelance writer, commentator, and blogger; as well as a public affairs, website content and social media manager for the Department of Defense.