Benefits of an In-Person or Online Appeal for a Security Clearance Denial
The security clearance appeal process is where an individual is allowed to present their case via document response or in person with counsel if they choose, along with other witnesses and exhibits. Pre-pandemic, almost all federal agencies held security clearance appeal proceedings in person. The Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) held courtroom proceedings with administrative judges. The Department of Energy (DOE) held less formal court-like proceedings with administrative judges. Other federal agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), often held personal appearances before a designated decision-maker.
Since the start of the pandemic, the appeals process did not stop, but was forced to adapt slightly to give applicants due process. DOHA followed CDC protocol and still held many cases in person in courtrooms, but also began to experiment with online hearings. Also, for the first time, some Intelligence Community agencies began to allow applicants select the option of telephonic hearings but also offered in-person personal appearances.
The general consensus among security clearance professionals is that online hearing processes were useful for many applicants, and it definitely helped in some cases where they were located in remote areas. It was also helpful in cases where credibility was not at issue and there were a reasonable number of documents and exhibits to be presented. However, where an individual is accused of being dishonest or where large number of documents are needed, online hearings were not as useful and appealing in-person is the preferred method. Decision-makers tend to get a better evaluation of an individual when they are facing them directly, as opposed to observing them online. Complicated cases are also harder to present online, and applicants should appeal in person. Going forward DOHA will likely move to a hybrid model, with some cases going completely online and others being held in person.