What could be complicated about the number of days you’re given to prepare an answer to a Statement of Reasons (SOR)?* Nothing, if the letter that accompanies the SOR clearly specifies business days or calendar days and you don’t need the documents the government relied upon to make its decision (e.g. investigative reports) or an extension to the suspense date. Suspense dates for answering SORs might seem a somewhat mundane, esoteric subject, but for someone who deals regularly with SOR responses, it’s clear that security clearance applicants are treated very differently depending on which government agency they’re dealing with. Even some divisions of a single agency have different time requirements for responding to a SOR.
For example, Division A of the DoD Consolidated Adjudications Facility (CAF), which handles collateral security clearances for defense contractor personnel, only gives applicants 20 calendar days to submit their response to a SOR. DoD CAF Division B (Army) gives their applicants 30 days; whereas, Division C (Navy) and Division D (Air Force) give their applicants 60 days.
Processing for contractor collateral security clearances is governed by DoD Directive 5220.6, “Defense Industrial Personnel Security Clearance Review Program.” Except for the National Security Adjudicative Guidelines, DoD Directive 5220.6 hasn’t been updated in 20 years. The Directive states:
E3.l.4. The applicant must submit a detailed written answer to the SOR under oath or affirmation that shall admit or deny each listed allegation. . . . The answer must be received by the DOHA [Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals] within 20 days from receipt of the SOR. Requests for an extension of time to file an answer may be submitted to the Director, DOHA, or designee, who in turn may grant the extension only upon a showing of good cause.
Because DOHA was reorganized eight years ago, SOR responses aren’t sent to DOHA anymore; they’re sent to DoD CAF, which merely forwards them unread to DOHA. SOR responses don’t need to be received by DoD CAF with 20 days; they only need to be sent to DoD CAF by the 20th day. DoD CAF Division A issues SORs with instructions to the applicant that state:
Return your complete, signed, notarized answer within 20 days of receipt of this letter to the Department of Defense Consolidated Adjudications Facility. . . .”
Although, DoD CAF Division A is now enclosing the entire DoD Directive 5220.6 with their SOR and Letter of Intent (LOI) to deny/revoke clearance; there is nothing in the LOI itself or the SOR that suggests it is possible to obtain an extension or how to obtain it. A 20- to 30-day extension to the suspense date can be obtained by sending DoD CAF an email without much justification—a request that simply states something like, “I need more time to gather supporting documents for my SOR response” is usually sufficient. However, nothing is ever as simple as it may seem. Many of the support personnel at DoD CAF Division A, who handle these requests, will not accept a request for an extension until the 17th day after the applicant receives the SOR. This can lead to some tense moments waiting for approval of your extension request. Inevitably the 17th day will fall on a Friday before a three-day weekend.
The other divisions of DoD CAF are governed by DoD Manual 5200.02, “Procedures for the DoD Personnel Security Program,” which states:
The individual’s reply to the LOI and SOR must be submitted no later than 30 calendar days from the date he or she received the LOI and SOR. An extension of up to 30 calendar days from the original deadline may be granted by the employing organization following submission of a written request from the individual before the expiration of the original deadline. Additional extensions may only be granted by the adjudication facility when factors beyond the individual’s control (e.g., failure of the DoD CAF or the ISP to provide records in a timely manner) warrant granting additional time. (Note: ISP stands for Investigative Service Provider)
The Division B of DoD CAF follows this procedure; however, Division C and Division D appear to approve a 30-day extension in advance and give their applicants 60 days to submit their SOR responses.
The last sentence of the paragraph quoted above conforms to the SOR suspense date requirement in Intelligence Community Policy Guidance (ICPG) 704.3, “Denial or Revocation of Access to Sensitive Compartmented Information, other Controlled Access Program Information, and Appeals Processes,” which states that applicants will be provided:
Any documents, records and reports upon which a denial or revocation is based to be provided within thirty (30) days of request and to the extent they would be provided if requested under applicable law, to include the Freedom of Information Act (5 U .S.C. 552) or the Privacy Act (5 U.S.C . 552a);
An opportunity to respond, in writing, within forty-five (45) days of receipt of relevant documentation to request a review of the determination;
ICPG 704.3 sometimes leads to further confusion, because of different terminology used by the three-letter Intelligence Community (IC) agencies. These agencies issue Letters of Denial (LOD) and Letters of Revocation (LOR) with their SORs. Other IC agencies, like the Army, Navy, and Air Force issue Letters of Intent (LOI) with their SORs. The Army, Navy, and Air Force Divisions of DoD CAF reference ICPG 704.3 in their LOIs, but never mention that SOR responses are not due until 45 days following the receipt of relevant documentation, which is almost always more time than the 60 days permitted by DoD Manual 5200.02.
Unfortunately Presidential Executive Order 12968, “Access to Classified Information,” upon which all security clearance regulations are based, merely states that applicants for security clearance will be “provided a reasonable opportunity to reply in writing to, and to request a review of, the determination.”
Many federal agencies calculate the suspense date from the day the applicant acknowledges receipt of their SOR. Below are examples of agency suspense requirements for SOR responses. Most other federal agencies have similar requirements. For example Department of Treasury and Department of State have the same requirement as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
- DHS – 30 calendar days from receipt of the SOR or 30 calendar days from receipt of relevant documents.
- Executive Office of the President – 30 business days
- Federal Aviation Administration – 15 calendar days
- Department of Interior – 45 days (type of days not specified)
Many people assume that it’s not difficult to answer an SOR in as little as 15 days. Many people are wrong. SORs are usually based on information from investigative reports, which can contain inaccuracies. Often you need to read the investigative reports to fully understand the allegation(s) in an SOR and to effectively answer the allegation. Getting the investigative reports usually takes more than a month. Most, if not all, SOR responses need supporting documentation. Collecting the supporting documents—whether they’re written acknowledgments from creditors that a debt was paid off or letters of recommendation from friends—can take weeks.
* A SOR is a document that is part of or attached to a letter informing an individual that their security clearance has been denied or tentatively denied.
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