Security Clearance Process

Defense Office of Hearing and Appeals Adapts to Post-COVID Processes

At the recent National Industrial Security Program Policy Advisory Committee (NISPPAC) meeting the Defense Office of Hearing an Appeals (DOHA) representative provided some interesting information about how DOHA was operating pre-COVID versus how it has adapted post-COVID. Prior to the pandemic, applicants who wanted an in-person hearing had to travel to the hearing location (within 150 miles of residence or employment) and physically appear in-person before the judge. Obviously, this process cost money to travel and required scheduling that would fit with the applicant, defense department attorney, and judge availability.

When COVID hit, it forced DOHA to come up with other ways to keep the appeals processes moving so that applicants could get a final determination on their security clearance. DOHA started using virtual platforms to conduct the appeals for applicants who wanted to appear before the judge to plead their case. Now, using Microsoft Teams, approximately 75% of appeals are done virtually, cutting out the expense and time for travel, and enabling the DOHA judges to get through more cases. In-person appeals are still being processed, but only make up 25% or less.

There are instances where the DOHA judge will mandate an in-person appeal, for example, cases involving psychological conditions where expert testimony might be needed, or perhaps cases where the applicant’s credibility needs to be measured by the judge in order to determine whether the concerns can be mitigated. So far this year, DOHA has published the results of 215 appeals cases, and as is par for the course, financial issues continue to outpace all other issues in the denials.