Holding a government clearance, regardless of the level, requires certain lifestyle adjustments and planning. When holding a clearance, the idea of a spur of the moment trip to Mexico or Paris is not possible. If you get a divorce, the government gets to know about it too. If you happen to get an inheritance from your mom, dad, or any family member, you have to divulge it, along with any other financial windfalls. Yes, it is good to have a job which requires you to have a government security clearance, however it can prove to be challenging at times to stay in compliance with what the government expects from those they trust to keep their secrets.  

To help you along, here are some lifestyle rules to live by that, if followed, will make life much easier and keep your clearance status in good shape.  

Report Foreign Contact Immediately

As a clearance holder it is imperative that you report any foreign contact to your security officer immediately. There seem to be a lot of questions surrounding this rule, as it seems that in today’s world, we could come across and interact with foreign nationals on a daily basis. How do we know exactly what to report and what doesn’t need to be reported? Question 19 on the SF-86 form is where this rule comes up. It reads:

“Do you have, or have you had, close and/or continuing contact with a foreign national within the last seven (7) years with whom you, or your spouse, or cohabitant are bound by affection, influence, common interests, and/or obligation? Include associates as well as relatives, not previously listed in Section 18.”

This question when read correctly, should make it clear that you must report foreign contact when it is “close and/or continuing.”  This definition should sum up what you need to do, in the case where there are still questions regarding foreign contact, err on the side of caution and report it to your security officer.  

Keep Track of your Credit 

Finances are a big deal when you are a cleared individual. Above and beyond the SF-86 questionnaire, most government agencies require an annual financial disclosure form to be filled out. You need to disclose everything in your financial situation, such as current and outstanding loans, credit cards, child support/spousal support, monetary gifts, real estate and investments. It is important when filling out the financial disclosure forms that you are as accurate as possible with your financial numbers, as anything that does not match what the government finds will raise a red flag. In addition to your financial disclosure and financial information section on the SF-86, it is imperative to know exactly what is on your credit report. Repossessions, bankruptcies and lots of collection activity will raise a red flag. However, if you do have those things on your credit report, it is not a deal breaker. You just need to document it and know that it exists on your credit report when asked about it by an investigator.

If you are coming up on a periodic reinvestigation shortly, try to take care of as much of that negative stuff on your report as possible, and ensure you document all communications with collectors. If you fall under continuous evaluation, don’t wait for a flag to come up – be proactive in reporting financial issues. Having a firm understanding of your credit and financial situation can offer a peace of mind. Remember, you are required to report any financial hardships or issues to your security officer as they arise. 

Avoid Recreational Drugs and Prescription Drug Abuse

This section is fairly clear. If you have started using recreational drugs or have begun to abuse prescription drugs, get help and then ensure you report it.  If you are facing your initial background investigation, be very clear about what you have done and don’t leave anything out. Transparency is a key to having a successful investigation or reinvestigation.  

Don’t Misuse Government Systems

What activity consists of misuse of government systems? This is another fairly easy situation to explain. Let’s list some of the items that will throw a red flag in an investigation and likely get you fired on the spot if done on a government system:

  • Peer-to-peer downloading of music/movies/software/media
  • Pornography use
  • Excessive personal use
  • Uploading/Installing non-approved software 
  • Use of a government system to gain access to another unauthorized system
  • Violation of copyright laws 
  • Using a personal email address for work purposes
  • Operating a personal business on government time and utilizing a government system

Most of these violations are obvious and should be avoided at all costs so as to not jeopardize your clearance status. If you are guilty of any of these offenses by mistake or on purpose, reporting them immediately could make the difference in keeping or losing your clearance.  

Just Don’t Lie, Don’t Do It!

Lastly, don’t lie when it comes to questions regarding your clearance or in an investigation. It may not seem like it, but investigators care more about honesty than they do about what you did as a teenager. If you are honest from the start, it shows that you can be trusted from the start. It is better to be honest at first than to have something come up later (and it will) that you lied about. That is a dealbreaker. 

Hopefully, this helps you understand what to watch for as you live life when holding a government clearance.  

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Greg Stuart is the owner and editor of vDestination.com. He's been a VMware vExpert every year since 2011. Greg enjoys spending time with his wife and 3 kids. He has 20 years of IT experience and currently works as an IT Consultant both in the private and public sector. Greg holds a BS in Information Technology and an MBA degree. He currently resides in Southeast Idaho. You can follow him on Twitter @vDestination, read his blog (vDestination.com) and listen to his podcast (vDestination.com/feed/podcast).