Security Clearance Study Focuses on Age-Based Trends and Risk Factors

A research study conducted by the RAND Corporation takes a look at how adjudicative criteria for evaluating the trustworthiness of security clearance applicants has changed from the “baby boomer’ generation to today’s “Generation Z”. The report breaks down trends and risk factors common to all generations and shows how the younger generation may be more vulnerable to risk factors inherent in today’s society. Here are some age-based trends and risk factors the researchers found that affect younger generations:

–          Foreign contacts: in today’s global economy, social media, overseas partnerships, and easy international travel makes having foreign national contacts more prevalent than ever before. As well, the number of foreign-born people living in the United States has increased and according to the report, by 2020 will make up 13.7% of the population

–          Financial risks: access to credit cards, loans, and other charge methods instead of saving until you can but what you want outright is a huge risk for the younger generation. Student loan debt is a hot topic at all levels of government. Add in the rising use of cryptocurrency that allows people to buy and sell with no oversight, all of these risk factors can be used to manipulate security clearance applicants

–          Substance abuse: the availability of illegal drugs, as well as the legalization of marijuana by over half the states in the U.S. makes substance abuse a serious concern.

–          Digital personal conduct: one’s online conduct is a very real concern. The number of websites, platforms and social media apps used to glean information from individuals to use for other purposes is astonishing. The 18-29 age group by far were the highest users of social media and were less concerned about data privacy, sharing information more freely online.

The RAND Corporation report recommended revising current risk factors and mitigation criteria to address these trends and make it easier for potential candidates to mitigate the concerns before applying for national security positions. On the face of it, this is a very thorough report that brings valid points on the security clearance process. To read a full copy of the report go here.


  1. A fascinating topic. Especially interesting is the mention of the growing problem of legitimate prescription drug use and untraceable cryptocurrency use.

  2. Definitely a much needed study. Builds on research previously completed by Katherine Herbig et al., at
    The Defense Personnel and Security Research Center (PERSEREC).