In our latest episode of ClearedCast we chat with Mark Frownfelter, Assistant Director for the Special Security Directorate at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. He talked hot topics in personnel security and clearance reform, including why candidates with drug use in their past shouldn’t ‘weed’ themselves out of the process, and how ODNI is staying responsive to policy changes in drug use. The personnel security program has come a long way, and even more changes are being considered to enhance and overhaul security efforts.

Annual Security Appraisals

One aspect of the move from periodic reinvestigations to continuous evaluation is how to gather information that isn’t triggered by automatic alerts. ODNI has piloted an idea currently used by the UK that consists of an annual security appraisal – a form that both employees and supervisors fill out to gather information and feedback about issues that may be relevant to clearance eligibility.

“Think of a dating app – everyone looks good on paper, but once you meet the person, you really get a sense of the individual,” said Frownfelter. The annual appraisal form picks up an applicant off of the paper and gives the opportunity to consider issues both directly applicable to the SF-86 and more broadly related to workplace issues or anxieties. One of the questions the form asks is about anxiety about work, along with a final question asking if the individual would like to speak to someone with their company’s counterintelligence or security office. Half of employees answered yes to at least one of those questions.

“These are things you don’t get from automated records checks,” said Frownfelter. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, he noted, with one individual particularly noting how it was ‘much better to do this each year then fill out the SF-86 every five years.’

Security Clearance Hot Topics

From annual security appraisals to providing updated guidance on drug use or marijuana investments, ODNI is working to ensure the security clearance process remains relevant to current threats.

“Marijuana and CBD products, it’s what we call a hot topic here and obviously it’s undergoing a lot of discussion as far as impact on one’s ability to undergo a clearance.” Frownfelter noted that changing societal acceptance of marijuana and states legalizing marijuana use have created pushes to change policy.

“The question we’re most frequently asked is if current marijuana policies are affecting our ability to attract young people,” said Frownfelter. Attracting the under-30 population is an important goal across the federal government, and ODNI is considering how the adjudicative guidelines help or hinder hiring efforts.

“If you’re a young college graduate, applying for a position with the intelligence community or a federal government job, should you be penalized for past experimental use of marijuana absent any other blemishes on your record?” said Frownfelter. “The IC is moving away from a previous policy of considering one-year of abstinence prior to applying for a security clearance.”


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