Security Clearances in the Post-COVID World: How the Pandemic Has Affected the Process

February 29, 2024
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

It may seem hard to believe, but the COVID-19 pandemic was declared to have officially ended in only May of last year. Before that, however, the lockdown and everything that occurred after it impacted millions of people’s lives. It is widely accepted that the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown had a devastating effect on our mental health, leading to a sharp increase in depression and anxiety. People gained weight, triggering other health issues. Many people turned to drugs and alcohol to manage their isolation and lack of structure. If they were not suffering from pandemic-related health issues, many people suffered financial issues due to lost income. All of these issues, from increased debt to mental health problems, can affect your security clearance in 2024. 

On top of all of that, people began working from home, requiring remote access to sensitive information in locations that were not at all secure. And with the advent of continuous vetting, workers who possess or are applying for security clearances face unique challenges in 2024. If you have questions or are encountering obstacles in the process, a federal security clearance attorney can provide you with invaluable guidance. 

Expect Delays

If you are seeking a security clearance, you should expect the process to take longer than average. One reason is that there has been a recent increase in the number of clearance applications. However, another reason is that the applications themselves are more complex for the reasons enumerated above. The transition to continuous vetting has also taxed the personnel responsible for managing the entire security clearance process, which has also contributed to delays. If you are currently applying for a security clearance, be patient and expect delays. That said, the government is fully committed to improving the process and processing times should start decreasing in the near future. 

Pandemic-Related Issues Will Not Be Overlooked in the Continuous Vetting Process

People who already have security clearances need to understand how continuous vetting works. Rather than go through the periodic reinvestigation process, clearance holders are being continually monitored across seven different categories: 

  1. Criminal history
  2. Violent extremism
  3. Terrorism and other unlawfully subversive activities
  4. Financial history 
  5. Foreign activities and associations
  6. Employment conduct
  7. Interpersonal activity

If you were one of the people who struggled during the pandemic, you need to address any issues that may have arisen during that time as soon as possible. For example, you should try to aggressively pay down debt that was incurred during the pandemic. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, you should consider seeking professional counseling. Clean up your social media profiles and make sure your workspace is secure (both physically and digitally) if you have been working from home. 

A Note about Mental Health

SF-86 was updated in 2016 in order to remove the requirement that security clearance holders must disclose any mental health treatment they have received. Instead, clearance holders must now disclose mental health conditions only if it would “substantially adversely affect their judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness.” It was also revised to emphasize that seeking treatment will not disqualify someone from holding a security clearance. 

Overall, this is good news. However, clearance holders and applicants should understand that failure to disclose significant mental health issues could become problematic. On the other hand, disclosure could also trigger a closer review. In addition, you may be asked to provide your medical records and participate in an independent psychological evaluation. 

First and foremost, you should seek whatever treatment you need. After that, you should discuss your situation with an experienced federal security clearance attorney. They can help you understand the pros and cons of disclosure, whether disclosure would be appropriate, and what you can expect. They should be able to help you make an informed decision. 

Contact The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford to Discuss Your Security Clearance Questions

For many contractors and federal employees, getting and keeping your security clearance is vital to your career. We stay up to date on clearance trends in order to provide real-time, hands-on guidance to our clients. Whether you are applying for your first clearance or are worried about continuous vetting, we can help you overcome the obstacles you are facing. Invest in your future by giving us a call at 410-514-6099 or contacting us online – we will schedule an appointment to discuss your situation and how we can help.