Inside the NCIS Security Clearance Process

NCIS headquarters are in the Russell-Knox Building aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.
NCIS headquarters are in the Russell-Knox Building aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. (NCIS photo)

Being denied a security clearance or having your security clearance revoked can have lasting effects that ripple through your personal and professional life. Most of the time, this can be avoided by taking a few small actions, which will be discussed. Personal conduct, financial considerations and criminal conduct account for approximately 80% of the Department of the Navy denial issues.

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Failing to maintain your security clearance can have these effects:

  • There is a possibility of a rate conversion, which may have a significant impact on future advancement and promotion boards.
  • Even if there is no rate conversion, working outside your rate for a period of time due to clearance issues will most often have a negative effect on your fitness reports, or fitreps, and evaluations.
  • The possibility of being forced to retire or discharged from service, and a difficulty gaining employment in the private sector due to employment/clearance issues.
  • If your command and/or Big Navy allows you to stay, once the clearance is denied or revoked, you will have to wait one year before you can request a reconsideration, per SECNAV M. 5510.30, Sec 8-6, page 8-13.

Let's start with the major players and the roles they play.

Intent to Deny Eligibility for Security Clearance

What is it, and what does it mean?

Stage 1: The letter of intent (LOI) is a warning that something in your background investigation will need to be addressed, or your security clearance may be revoked or denied.The LOI is accompanied by a document called the statement of reasons (SOR). This document is issued by the Department of the Navy Central Adjudications Facility (DONCAF) and indicates exactly what was found in your background investigation that will need to be addressed.

Appealing the DONCAF LOI/SOR Stage

Stage 2: If you receive an LOI with SOR, it is vital that you take action immediately. The SOR can be used as a road map to form your appeal. The SOR will list the exact reasons that need to be mitigated before the security clearance can be granted or reinstated. And it will provide insight as to the types of documents you should try to obtain to help your case.

The best thing to do is to use the SOR as a template and find/provide proof that every item in question can be mitigated. At this stage, it is absolutely vital that you provide documentation to support your claims. (Example: Saying that a debt that is included on your credit report is an error is not as convincing as a letter from the creditor, stating that the debt was reported in error and will be removed from the credit report.)

Stage 3: The appeal to the LOI/SOR is forwarded from the member's command directly to DONCAF. The documents, statements and command endorsements will be carefully weighed to determine whether the SOR issues have been properly mitigated.

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Yes: If the documents provided have successfully mitigated all issues listed on the SOR, then your security clearance or eligibility for access to a sensitive position will be granted and the process is over.

No: If your LOI appeal documents are not sufficient to mitigate all issues on the SOR, then your clearance/eligibility access will be denied and a letter of notification (LON) will be issued.

Final Denial/Revocation of Eligibility for Security Clearance

What is it and what does it mean?

Stage 4: The LON serves as notice that your security clearance or access to a sensitive position has been officially denied or revoked. This will tell you in general terms that your original appeal to the LOI/SOR was not sufficient and that more information is required to mitigate the issues listed on the SOR.

The LON will tell you the overall issues (i.e., personal conduct and/or financial considerations) at hand and will refer you back to the SOR to reference the exact personal or financial issues that still need to be mitigated. Upon receipt of this letter, your access to classified information and/or assignment to sensitive duties will be immediately terminated (per the instructions for Handling the Letter of Notification).

Stage 5: The LON issued by DONCAF will be accompanied by a document called the Notice of Intent to Appeal (NOIA). This document gives the member the opportunity to choose whether to try to appeal the denial/revocation and the method in which to appeal. There are two options in which to appeal.

  • Submit a written appeal directly to the PSAB. (Stage 8)
  • Appear before a DOHA administrative judge, who, in turn, will forward a recommendation to the PSAB. (Stage 6)

Regardless of the choice that is made, this document will need to be returned to DONCAF within 10 calendar days of receipt before further action can take place.

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Stage 6: If you make a personal appearance before an administrative judge, you will be contacted by DOHA to schedule the appearance. Once your hearing is completed, the judge will write a recommendation, based on all information provided, and forward it to the PSAB (Stage 7), which makes the final determination.

Stage 8: If you make a direct written appeal to the PSAB, you will be required to provide any mitigating documents, statements, command endorsement, etc., directly to the PSAB within 30 calendar days of signing the NOIA.

Stage 9: The Personnel Security Appeals Board will review all documentation to include the member's appeal documents, the judge's recommendation and the historic case file provided by DONCAF, and make a final determination based on the whole person concept.

Yes: If the PSAB overturns the DONCAF denial, the clearance will be granted or reinstated. (May be a "conditional" reinstatement whereby certain conditions will be placed on the appellant for them to retain their clearance.)

No: If the PSAB upholds the DONCAF decision, the appeal process will be closed and the member will have to wait one year from the date of the final decision before they can request a reconsideration.

The Key to a Successful Appeal Is Proof

Since the vast majority of denials or revocations are based on financial issues, we will use that as our example. If your SOR listed a number of bad debts, you will want to find documentation to show that you have satisfied the debtor that you are working on a resolution.

  • A letter from the creditor stating that the debt has been satisfied is the best way to do this.
  • A letter from your creditor documenting a payment or payments that have been made can show that you are working toward a resolution.
  • A canceled check payable to the creditor is sufficient to document payments. (But remember that providing a copy of just the front of the check does not prove that the payment was completed!)
  • A current credit report clearly stating that the debt has been "paid," "paid in full" or "settled in full" may also be sufficient, provided the account numbers can be verified and it is the same debt in question on the SOR.

Documentation That Does Not Satisfy the Requirements

  • Copy of the front of a check written to your creditor. (Without an indication that the check has been canceled, there is no proof of payment.)
  • Copies of money orders
  • Simply stating that the debt has been satisfied. (At this stage, it is not what you say; it is what you can prove.)
  • If you plan to satisfy your debts via a debt management Plan. Simply enrolling in the plan will not be sufficient documentation. You will need to provide documents that indicate exactly which debts are included in the debt management plan. You will also have to show a history of making the required monthly payments to this plan. The earlier you begin this process, the better, as it gives you more time to demonstrate a good-faith effort to resolve your debts.

Be honest! Not listing arrests, financial issues, drug use, etc., will come back to haunt you later and only hurts more in the long run if it is found that you were trying to be deceptive.

DONCAF will pull a credit report and criminal record. You cannot hide this. It is always a good idea to pull your own credit report, in order to get a clear picture of your current debts, before applying for a security clearance. And especially at the beginning of your appeal process, assuming financial considerations is a concern.

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