Attorney Ron SykstusI recently saw in the news where President-elect Donald Trump is thinking about getting security clearances for his children and son-in-law.

For everyone else, getting a security clearance is a much more arduous and burdensome process, unless your father is the President!  In fact, I get several calls per month from prospective clients who tell me that they want to get a good-paying job that requires a security clearance and they ask me for help to get them one.  Unfortunately, that is not how the security clearance system works.

Obtaining Security Clearance

For someone to get a security clearance, they have to be sponsored for a clearance by a sponsoring organization, which is most often a governmental branch or the Department of Defense.   The sponsoring organization will offer employment and, where a security clearance is required, it will make the job offer contingent upon the individual being granted a security clearance.  The job applicant then goes through the employer’s FSO (Facility Security Officer) to get the process started for the FSO to put the employee in for whatever clearance is needed to perform the job, confidential, secret or top secret.

That individual employee then must complete a standard form 86 (SF-86) on-line through the e-Qip (Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing) program.  There are specific adjudicative guidelines that have been established for all U.S. government civilian and military personnel, consultants, contractors, employees of contractors, licensees, certificate holders or grantees and their employees, or other individuals who require access to classified material. These guidelines apply to persons being considered for individual or continued eligibility for access to classified information, to include sensitive compartmented information and special access programs and are to be used by government departments and agencies in all final clearance determinations. Government departments and agencies may also choose to apply these guidelines to analogous situations regarding persons being considered for access to other types of protected information.

Security Clearance Regulations

The Regulations regarding Security Clearance access are as follows:


Decisions regarding eligibility for access to classified information take into account factors that could cause a conflict of interest and place a person in the position of having to choose between his or her commitments to the United States, including the commitment to protect classified information, and any other compelling loyalty. Access decisions also take into account a person’s reliability, trustworthiness and ability to protect classified information. No coercive policing could replace the self-discipline and integrity of the person entrusted with the nation’s secrets as the most effective means of protecting them. When a person’s life history shows evidence of unreliability or untrustworthiness, questions arise whether the person can be relied on and trusted to exercise the responsibility necessary for working in a secure environment where protecting classified information is paramount.

Adjudicative Process

The adjudicative process is an examination of a sufficient period of a person’s life to make an affirmative determination that the person is an acceptable security risk. Eligibility for access to classified information is predicated upon the individual meeting these personnel security guidelines. The adjudication process is the careful weighing of a number of variables known as the whole-person concept. Available, reliable information about the person, past and present, favorable and unfavorable, should be considered in reaching a determination.


In evaluating the relevance of an individual’s conduct, the adjudicator should consider the following factors:

  1. The nature, extent, and seriousness of the conduct
  2. The circumstances surrounding the conduct, to include knowledgeable participation;
  3. The frequency and recency of the conduct;
  4. The individual’s age and maturity at the time of the conduct;
  5. The extent to which participation is voluntary;
  6. the presence or absence of rehabilitation and other permanent behavioral changes;
  7. The motivation for the conduct;
  8. The potential for pressure, coercion, exploitation or duress; and
  9. The likelihood of continuation or recurrence.

Each case must be judged on its own merits and a final determination remains the responsibility of the specific department or agency. Any doubt concerning personnel being considered for access to classified information will be resolved in the favor of national security.

The ability to develop specific thresholds for action under these guidelines is limited by the nature and complexity of human behavior.  The ultimate determination of whether the granting or continuing of eligibility for security clearance is clearly consistent with the interests of national security must be an overall common sense judgment based upon careful considerations of the following guidelines, each of which is to be evaluated in the context of the whole person.

The following are the areas of inquiry to be explored in deciding whether to grant a security clearance:

  • Guideline A: Allegiance to the United States
  • Guideline B:  Foreign Influence
  • Guideline C: Foreign Preference
  • Guideline D:  Sexual Behavior
  • Guideline E:  Personal Conduct
  • Guideline F:  Financial Considerations
  • Guideline G:  Alcohol Consumption
  • Guideline H: Drug Involvement
  • Guideline I:  Psychological Conditions
  • Guideline J:  Criminal Conduct
  • Guideline K: Handling Protected Information
  • Guideline L:  Outside Activities
  • Guideline M:  Use of Information Technology Systems

Although adverse information concerning a single criterion may not be sufficient for an unfavorable determination, the individual may be disqualified if available information reflects a recent or recurring pattern of questionable judgment, irresponsibility, or emotionally unstable behavior. Notwithstanding the whole-person concept, pursuit of further investigation may be terminated by an appropriate adjudicative agency in the face of reliable, significant, disqualifying, adverse information.

Issues of Concern

When information of security concern becomes known about an individual who is currently eligible for access to classified information, the adjudicator should consider whether the person:

  1. Voluntarily reported the information;
  2. Was truthful and complete when responding to questions;
  3. Sought assistance and followed professional guidance, where appropriate;
  4. Resolved or appears likely to favorably resolve the security clearance concern;
  5. Has demonstrated positive changes in behavior and employment;
  6. Should have his or her access temporarily suspended pending final adjudication of the information.

If after evaluating information of security concern, the adjudicator decides that the information is not serious enough to warrant a recommendation of disapproval or revocation of the security clearance, it may be appropriate to recommend approval with a warning that future incidents of a similar nature may result in revocation of access to classified material.

The clearance process is entirely an administrative proceeding.   If the clearance is denied, there is no available federal court review of the denial.  The administrative process contains due process safeguards and appeal rights for security clearance applicants.

If you have concerns about any type of security clearance, please contact me directly by visiting my security clearance web site:  I have been helping individuals with security clearance concerns, questions, issues, denials and revocations for several years.  You can contact me at here or by phone at my direct phone number 256-713-0221.

These blog posts may provide some further guidance and assistance to you.  

Ron Sykstus
Written by Ron Sykstus

Ron Sykstus is a Managing Partner of several of the Bond & Botes Law Offices throughout Alabama. He holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Arizona, Tucson, and a Juris Doctorate from the Northern Illinois University College of Law. Ron has served in numerous positions throughout the U.S. Army and now utilizes his expertise in the areas of VA issues, security clearances, military law, and bankruptcy to assist his clients when they need it most. Read his full bio here.

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