Are you in tune with the 13 adjudicative guidelines? Your national security job and your eligibility for maintaining a security clearance depends on them. Lindy Kyzer and Sean Bigley discuss the education and guidance that is critical for providing information to applicants and maintaining the cleared workforce.
This is Sean Bigley and Lindy Kyzer of clearancejobs.com. We’re talking in this segment about the adjudicative guidelines. And Lindy, for most of our listeners, their job depends on them, but I’m often astounded at how few people have ever taken the time to read them. I know for me, prior to becoming an attorney and practicing in this space, I was a background investigator for the government and I am embarrassed to say that even I hadn’t read them until I became an attorney, I didn’t know what they were because as a background investigator, it’s really not something you deal with. What’s your sense? Do you feel like there’s kind of a lack of literacy on this issue? Or do you feel like since this is something we are talking about a lot at ClearanceJobs and other places that people are kind of starting to get a little bit more clued in?
Hey, hey, that was a nice segue, Sean. I’ll receive that. Yes. I mean, I do think ClearanceJobs has been a big push around this issue of saying like, “Hey, it’s important to understand the security clearance process.” I love the government. I love you, government, I love you, D-C-S-A. The government has traditionally done a terrible job at advising applicants about this process and leaving them very uninformed when they apply. Many security officers, I love you as well, but a lot of them have a sink-or-swim mentality. They’re just sending these forms and saying good luck. Some of the big companies have their own kind of guides to filling out the SF-86. Some of the agencies do; the State Department, for instance, is well-known for actually publishing information about this process. But it is very disparate across the community and there has traditionally not been a clear process for providing applicants information about what it actually is they are filling out.
And I think that’s why sometimes we have these kind of crazy cases around the security clearance process where people applied and have done different things like, “Why did this person even apply for security clearance?” Well, it’s because they never have read the adjudicated guidelines. So I think that there is this disconnect. I’m biased here, but I think if you are applying for a security clearance or working in the national security community, it is to your advantage to have read up on the process a little bit, even just a brief summary. And then just knowing, “Hey, oh, I do have what is misuse of IT systems per se.” And then reading about it and then knowing if it’s actually an issue or it’s not when the reality is once they read the adjudicated guidelines, it’s actually not an issue.
Yeah, I agree. I mean, some of the more entertaining calls that I used to get in law practice, I use the term entertaining loosely. I mean, I felt bad for some of these people because they were clearly really, really stressed about something that they didn’t need to be stressed about. Some of these calls that I would get would be, “Oh my gosh, I’m going through the clearance process for the first time. I feel like the government’s bugging my phone. Are my keystrokes going to be logged? Is my email going to be read? Are they going to look in my bank account?” All these questions about these really crazy invasive practices that just don’t take place as a normal part of the security clearance background investigation process. Granted, if you’re like somebody who has mega, mega stuff to hide and the government finds out about it, then it could spiral into more of a criminal investigation, counterintelligence investigation, and those sorts of things could start happening.
But for the average ordinary applicant, no, the government’s not peering into your email account, or your bank account, or listening in on your phone calls, or following you as you go about your day-to-day duties as part of the background investigation. What I found is that many applicants wrongly fixated on the investigation process when they actually should have been fixating on the backend, like, “I know I have this issue, we know it’s going to come up because it’s on my criminal record.” Or, “I was fired from a job two years ago.” Or, basic things that are on the SF-86 and are going to come up during the background investigation. So let’s not worry so much about the investigative process. Let’s take a look at the adjudicative guidelines and the standards that you’re actually being held to.
And so I always told people, your job is dependent on these things. You should probably read them. And it’s one of those things where I think in particular, some of the outlier adjudicative guidelines, the misuse of IT system, the sexual behavior, the psychological conditions, some of those things are the ones that people actually need to be focusing on. I’m curious, Lindy, obviously, we get a lot of user questions, comments, and things like that on ClearanceJobs and the ClearanceJobs Blog. Is there one particular adjudicated guideline that seems to be kind of the one that causes people more problems or stress than others?
Well, I mean, everybody asks about the drug use one, right? Drug involvement. And that’s because we’ve spoken about frequently on this show, the evolving policy, the trends around drug use, meaning that just hits a lot more folks. And that we always emphasize with adjudicated guidelines, this is why reading them is important because it is not just drug use, it is drug involvement. And so that’s why it hits a lot more applicants. We get the whole, “Hey, my girlfriend does drugs.” Or, “I have a cohabitant.” Or, “My roommate.” Or just a lot more issues around that. And that’s just one of the frequent ones. I’m always surprised financial issues hit a lot of applicants. We don’t get as many questions about that as we do the spicy security clearance questions. And I think, as you talk about here, people have not read the adjudicated guidelines, maybe have not gotten a copy of their credit score recently, and are kind of blindsided by a lot of things that come up.
And that’s why I think reading the adjudicated guidelines ahead of time is helpful. Doing some basic personal organization triage around knowing what your credit score is, or if something’s going to get flagged is super helpful because the government tells you how to mitigate this stuff. I mean, sometimes people act shocked of like, “How can I do it?” The adjudicated guidelines spell out if you have X issue, Y is how to mitigate it. And you can use the additional comment section of your SF-86 not to overshare information, but only as directed to specifically address issues that are mitigating factors in the adjudicated guidelines.
And that is what is painful about the process because I see people use things like the additional questions poorly, and that is directly because they have not read what is actually mitigating. And then they end up including more information that makes them look bad rather than what makes them look good because we don’t know how to defend ourselves properly, and this is why we need attorneys. Sean, can you have maybe even examples of that, of how a misapplication of the adjudicated guidelines where somebody actually made their problem worse?
Yeah, I’ll give you a great one. And this was really common that I used to see all the time where people would try to excuse their drug use by the fact that they were intoxicated and they would say, “I only snorted coke because I was super, super drunk.” And you would have to kind of look at them and say, “That’s your excuse. That’s your answer.” And to be fair, there are outlier times when that works. Like for example, you get slipped something in a drink and you didn’t realize it. Or, you are not somebody who’s normally a heavy drinker, but there was a one-off occasion where maybe you had a few too many. Those scenarios, with the help of an experienced attorney, can potentially work in your favor. But for the vast majority of cases, not so much because if somebody is regularly using drugs and they’re regularly getting drunk on top of it, then you now have two issues instead of one.
To your other point, in terms of some of these issues that are really clearly spelled out in the adjudicated guidelines, what the mitigating factors are, the best one there would be the financial conditions guideline, because taking a financial education class, and having a budget are key mitigating factors. And yet I would get clients all the time in my law practice who had no idea that that would help them. And so I would have to sort of gently guide them in that direction, say, “Go to your local community college, find a financial education class, go take it, and then get me something showing that you took it and that’s going to help you.” And people just didn’t realize.
So I think the best sort of public service announcement maybe we can give to listeners is beyond go read these things where they actually are and they’re found at what’s called SEAD for a security executive agent directive for which I know is a mouthful, but if you just Google S-E-A-D for, they will come up. You can read through them all there. It’s not reading that’s going to keep you awake for very long, but it’s helpful to at least have that knowledge.
For sure. I mean, it’s news you can use if you’re applying for a security clearance is worth knowing what the adjudicative guidelines are.