Earlier this year, my office filed a Freedom of Information Act request with DoD’s Consolidated Adjudications Facility (CAF) for the number of security clearances denied or revoked by DoD for each of the past five years. The response, dated April 23, 2021, painted an interesting picture.
From fiscal year (FY) 2016 through FY 2019, the DoD denied or revoked an average of roughly 5,657 security clearances annually. This number includes all branches of the military services except the Coast Guard (which has its own CAF and is housed within the DHS), along with DoD civilian employees and contractors. Of those, contractors and the Army consistently had higher numbers of denials and revocations than the other service branches or civilian employees; but, to be fair, those groups also comprise the largest percentages of cleared personnel at DoD.
Then COVID-19 hit.
Decreasing Denials and Revocations
In FY 2020, the DoD denied or revoked a total of only 3,793 security clearances – a decrease of a third.
In 2021, the decrease was even more pronounced. As of the date of DoD CAF’s response, over halfway through FY 2021*, only 1,421 security clearances had been denied or revoked at DoD. Assuming that pace continued for the balance of FY 2021, the DoD would have denied or revoked literally half the number of security clearances this year than they averaged in the four fiscal years immediately prior to the pandemic.
In the abstract, these numbers demonstrate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the productivity of the government’s personnel security workforce. We certainly felt it in my law practice, with everything from FOIA responses to decisions in security clearance denial and revocation cases taking dramatically longer these past couple years.
Warning Signs and Alarm Bells
On a more literal level, the precipitous decline in numbers should raise alarm bells for security clearance-holders looking to relax after two years of juggling work, childcare, and life upended. COVID-19 didn’t magically erase delinquent debts, cure substance abuse problems, or ameliorate concerns about criminal conduct, mental health, or foreign ties. In other words, for the thousands of folks who managed to escape the axe during the 2020 and 2021 slowdown – and you probably know who you are – now is not the time to get comfortable.
Instead, if you see questions from security officials in your future, use this time to get out ahead of potential concerns by establishing a budget and paying off debts, getting into substance abuse treatment, or shedding your overseas financial holdings. If your situation is more complicated or you’re not entirely sure how to mitigate concerns, consider seeking professional help.
Ultimately, many security clearance denial and revocation cases are winnable. But your odds of convincing the government that you’re not a risk improve exponentially if the mitigation you’re implementing isn’t undertaken solely because the government called you out on your issues. Proactivity is the name of the game.
*The federal government’s fiscal year starts October 1 of the preceding calendar year.
This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation.