COVID-19 is changing much of the security clearance process for those looking for cleared full-time work. And unfortunately, one change is very unwelcome in an economy that’s seen severe unemployment.While the defense industry has largely been unscathed, the novel coronavirus sweeping the country is keeping many people from starting the cleared jobs they’ve waited many months to get. 

“Much like the rest of the economy, COVID-19 put a significant dent into the ability of people to start work on classified projects,” says Bradley P. Moss, a national security attorney, adding that contractor and government sites were reduced, like most companies, to only essential employees. Many non-essential jobs that couldn’t be done remotely, he says, have been put on hold indefinitely.

In other cases, the ability to onboard new employees has stalled because of COVID-19, explains national security attorney, John Berry. Employers may also “be generally [using] a wait-and-see approach given economy,” pausing on moving forward with new hires, Berry explains. 

Newly Cleared and Benched

The situation is leaving many newly cleared workers wondering: Now that I have clearance, can I work a temporary cleared job while I wait for my dream job to come through? The answer is you can—though experts caution this may not be the best plan of action in the current economy.

If you decide to take a temporary cleared job, you will have to get written permission from the agency for which your original work was going to be performed. People will have to weigh whether causing a potential headache for their future employer is worth the risk, he says.

“Most agencies would have an obvious objection to this unless it was something they located within their own agency,” Moss says, explaining that having “the individual working on another agency location site would cause bureaucratic headaches once the COVID-19 restrictions started easing off.”

Permission is Better than Forgiveness with Cleared Work

Don’t think you can get around asking for permission.

“If you were hired to work on a cleared project—whether in a contract support role or as a government employee—you cannot just start working on another cleared project during the COVID-19 disruption without first coordinating with the original employing agency,” Moss says. “That’s a surefire way to burn bridges fast.”

While Moss cautions taking a temporary cleared job could ruffle your future employer’s feathers, Berry says that being upfront and transparent could lead the employer to be understanding. At the end of the day, employers are human and understand that people need to have an income.

Transparency for All Parties

Berry also recommends transparency with the agency for which you plan to work temporarily—especially if the job isn’t a temporary one. After all, that employer will see you’ve been sponsored by the first employer. So, in order to not burn bridges in the future, you should let them know that it is a temporary position.

Of course, there’s the issue of being cleared for the new, temporary job too, and Berry warns the timing might not work out. One way to ensure a faster process is to search for a temporary job that requires clearance from the same agency. For example, if your Department of Defense (DoD) clearance is active, an employer looking for someone to fill a DoD contract might be willing to assume your clearance or sponsor you. 

Things Can Go South If You’re Not Careful

However, even if the stars align, be cautious about temporary positions. Be choosy with the temporary company – just in case you don’t actually like them. If you don’t get along your supervisors, they could tarnish your reputation— or worse, you get fired from that temporary job.

“The temporary employer could report them in JPAS or Scattered Castles,” explains Berry, “and then the first employer might decline them based on the incident report.” You risk losing your dream job.

Both Moss and Berry recommend trying to find a non-cleared temporary job for now. Or, if the timing is off, then it could make sense to just take a different cleared position if onboarding is taking too long for the first one. 

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Jillian Kramer is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, and many more.