Remember when you were a young, wild, and free young adult without a care for what might come back to bite you when you had dreams of or working in the national security sector – at what age do you hit the ‘should have known better’ age within the security clearance process?

One ClearanceJobsBlog subscriber asks:

For mitigation purposes, at what age does the benefit of being young and dumb turn into “you were old enough to know better”?

How does this change for 18–20-year-olds in the military with a clearance?

The answer can change based on whether the individual is applying for a clearance or already holds a clearance – we have generally advised that doing something illegal ‘accidentally’ does not usually get a pass for security clearance holders, and you’re generally expected to know better regardless of your age. For applicants it is one thing, but especially for individuals who are found to be doing something illegal while actively holding a clearance, it’s often another.

Youthful shenanigans remain a common theme among Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) cases and the ClearanceJobsBlog discussion board. We have seen both positive outcomes of receiving security clearance eligibility and those who end up with access denied.

For mitigation purposes, there is no set age for when you should have known better, however, you can use the SF-86 as your guide. Some questions are marked with ‘in the last ten years’ timeline and others with ‘have you EVER’. Time is always your friend when it comes to mitigating illegal behavior and obtaining security clearance, but time should not be your only friend.

The adjudicative guidelines use mitigating factors in making a favorable determination, and while one of those considerations is the amount of time elapsed since the misconduct occurred. The clearance process also relies on the whole person concept to ensure youthful indiscretions aren’t used to eliminate someone from security clearance consideration. However, if there is a continued pattern (and a lot of it) no matter the time in between, you may not be old enough to know better.


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Katie Keller is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 8+ years in the DoD supporting multiple contractors with recruitment strategy, staffing augmentation, marketing, & communications. Favorite type of beer: IPA. Fave hike: the Grouse Grind, Vancouver, BC. Fave social platform: ClearanceJobs! 🇺🇸