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Legal Insider: How the COVID-19 Pandemic Could Affect Security Clearances

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

Many security clearance holders and future applicants have been affected by the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic, most often in connection with their overall financial situation or credit. This article discusses the potential security clearance implications of the Coronavirus/COVID-19 for security clearance holders and applicants.

Financial Issues

The most common security clearance concern for clearance holders, even before the pandemic, involved financial issues. The current COVID-19 crisis will directly impact these types of security concerns. Individuals will likely face potential financial losses, bankruptcy, bad credit or unmanageable debt as a result of the crisis.

These types of issues fall under Guideline F, Financial Considerations pursuant to Security Executive Agent Directive 4 (SEAD 4). SEAD 4 provides the Government’s security clearance guidelines that adjudicators review in evaluating whether or not to grant a security clearance. Financial concerns usually include bad credit, unpaid debts, unpaid taxes and other related financial issues.

It is very likely, due to the existing and future disruptions in business and work that many individuals could be laid off or lose their jobs if the COVID-19 pandemic lasts for an extended period of time. We may very well be entering a recession right now given the number of jobless claims that have recently been filed.

With these recent layoffs, individual finances are clearly going to be negatively impacted. An economic downturn and loss of work can have massive financial implications for many government contractors and other private-sector employees in a relatively short period of time. If individuals are laid off, it is often the case that they find themselves financially underwater within a month. As a result, these individuals are often unable to pay their mortgage, rent, car loans, consumer credit loans or other major bills.

These types of issues affect security clearance holders as debts which result from such a recession are not easily rectified immediately even when new positions requiring clearances become available. We still have clients who lost a majority of their investments during the Great Recession between 2007 and 2009 who still have to address financial issues in connection with their security clearances.

In other words, COVID-19 may lead to a downturn which can have a major effect on security clearance holders or applicants for a long period of time.

The COVID-19 Crisis Will Most Certainly be Viewed as Unique and Mitigating

In terms of security clearances, there is good news for clearance holders, applicants and future applicants. Clearance adjudicators recognize that major shared events, like recessions, are unique in nature which can help to mitigate those security clearance concerns. COVID-19 related financial issues and any downturn would almost certainly fall in this category.

Specifically, SEAD 4, under Guideline F, Financial Considerations, provides mitigation to those facing security concerns related to debts, credit and other financial issues. SEAD 4. Paragraph 20(a) provides as mitigation that “the behavior happened so long ago, was so infrequent, or occurred under such circumstances that it is unlikely to recur…” Furthermore, Paragraph 20(b) states, as a key mitigating factor that “the conditions that resulted in the financial problem were largely beyond the person’s control (e.g., loss of employment, a business downturn, unexpected medical emergency… and the individual acted responsibly under the circumstances.)”

There is no reason to doubt that security clearance adjudicators will give serious consideration to mitigating financial-related security clearance concerns related to debts, bankruptcy and taxes as they have done in the past as it relates to losses occurring as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our general advice to security clearance holders is for them to keep on top of their finances, work with creditors (even if they are uncooperative) if they are laid off or lose their jobs and keep copies of all documents and their attempts to resolve debts or otherwise appear to act responsibly. Even if a creditor doesn’t act reasonable, copies of records showing that the individual tried to do their best in a difficult financial situation is often very helpful.

Contact Us

If you are in need of security clearance law representation or advice, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or through our contact page to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook or Twitter.

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