Security Clearance Denial

Top Issues in 2017 for Security Clearance Denials

Through the end of November 2017 the Defense Office of Hearing and Appeals (DOHA) Board heard 2,054 clearance denial appeals. As you can see, financial issues continue to outpace all other issues combined. Below is a breakdown by adjudicative category of the types of issues involved (Note – many cases had multiple issues):

Adjudicative Guideline                                                                               

Guideline A: Allegiance to the U.S                            0

Guideline B: Foreign Influence                                 254

Guideline C: Foreign Preference                              91

Guideline D: Sexual Behavior                                   14

Guideline E: Personal Conduct                                408

Guideline F: Financial Considerations                    1497

Guideline G: Alcohol Consumption                         97

Guideline H: Drug Involvement                               170

Guideline I: Psychological Conditions                     1

Guideline J: Criminal Conduct                                  132

Guideline K: Handling Protected Information      20

Guideline L: Outside Activities                                 8

Guideline M: Use of IT Systems                               11

Keep in mind that these are only the results from DOD appeals and does not include security clearance denials or appeals processed by the Intelligence Community agencies, State Department, Department of Energy, or the various other government agencies that grant their own clearances. Except for an increase in foreign influence cases, the numbers for issue categories are right on par with last year.

With the wealth of information available on the main site and this blog site, as well as other resources cited in the various posts, security clearance applicants should be savvy about how to prepare for the background investigation process in order to avoid delays and provide mitigation for potential issues. Knowledge and preparation can help expedite and smooth the potentially long and arduous path to getting a security clearance.


  1. Interesting statistics . . . It’s not surprising that financial issues are by far at the top of the list. The economy has been bad for the last 16 years and many people are still digging out from problems. It does surprise me how low some of the other numbers are. Of course these are only the appealed denials. I suspect that many who were denied for things like Guidelines A, B and C, may not be inclined to bother with an appeal.

  2. This is interesting to me as well because my main issues were Financial and I still got the clearance. I had a large amount of debt that was not from student loans or anything simple. It is strange to me because why do all these people get denied because of financial, it isn’t the fact that they have debt, it’s the fact that they aren’t doing anything to correct it? Are there situations where people have a lot of debt, are making payments, but still get denied?

  3. I suspect that most people with debt can explain/mitigate the concerns but they get denied, initially either because they do not do a good enough job explaining it on their SF86 or the SF86 just doesn’t give you the chance.

    At lot of this could be addressed with the investigator and that’s what I tried to do. I provided a pile of documentation to the investigator and the same information in the reply to my SOR. I was denied but the same information, pretty much, allowed me to prevail on appeal.

    I feel like the adjudicators need better instruction on interpreting mitigating factors.

  4. The majority of appeal denials were because the applicant did not start mitigation steps until after being confronted with the debts or took no steps at all and just had the debt unresolved. Or, they mitigated the debt issue but not the other issues like lack of candor or the failure to file taxes, both which fall under personal conduct.

  5. Marko . . . Do you have stats on denial appeals that were overturned? Maybe those applicant appeals that were overturned as opposed to government appeals of approvals that were overturned?

    It seems like the number the interesting, useful, statistics would allow us to look at the number of denials that are overturned by judges after hearings and the number of appeals, both denials and approvals, that are overturned by the appeals board.

    This would help to show that adjudicators and judges are doing a good, mediocre or poor job of making decisions. For example, if many denials are being overturned at hearings, it would help to show that adjudicators are being either overzealous or lazy. Either denying applicants that they should know are going to win at a hearing OR just issuing denials so that someone else makes the final decision.

  6. Just a thought… you mentioned that you provided “a pile of documentation”, but did the investigator accept those documentation and enter those documentation into “case file”? I am really curious as to how the investigator determines which documentation to accept. This acceptance could possible factor into why adjudicators might not have sufficient information on hand to make a better determination.

  7. The majority of appeals were upheld by the DOHA judge. Many applicants attempted to introduce new evidence not previously submitted in the initial SOR response (e.g., showing payments made). That information cannot be considered by the judge since it was not used to make the initial denial decision.

  8. Some clarification is needed regarding the use of the word “appeal.” The DOHA hearing is not an “appeal.” At DOHA an appeal can occur after the Administrative Judge (AJ) grants or denies a clearance based on a hearing or based on the written record (File of Relevant Material—FORM). Appeals at DOHA are submitted in writing (Appeal Brief) by either the applicant or the Department Counsel (DC) to a three-member DOHA Appeal Board. It is not permissible to introduce new evidence or new arguments with an appeal. It is permissible to introduce new evidence at a hearing or in response to a “File of Relevant Material—FORM” that was not submitted with the SOR response.

    For EdFarmerIII: Here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote in 2012. The win/loss percentages are probably about the same today:

    “I reviewed 500 cases decided by Administrative Judges (AJs) at the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) between March and October 2012. These cases showed that at the final stage of clearance adjudication, applicants with attorneys or personal representatives were granted clearances 60% more often than those who represented themselves (pro se). Yet only 20% of applicants chose to be represented by an attorney. Of the 400 pro se applicants only 32% were granted security clearances. Of the 98 applicants who were represented by attorneys 51% received security clearances. There were 2 applicants who were assisted by “personal representatives,” and both were granted security clearances.”

    The success rate of those who pay for professional help is somewhat skewed because they are usually applicants with the poorest likelihood of success and because a significant number of these applicants are able to have their SOR withdrawn by DOHA based solely on the SOR response and obviate the need for a hearing.

    Only about 5 percent of applicants (appellants) who appeal to the DOHA Appeal Board to have a clearance denial/revocation by a DOHA AJ overturned are successful. DOHA DCs are much more successful when they appeal a decision favorable to the applicant.

  9. Thanks! That’s a lot of the information that I was looking for. I guess that I bucked the trend. I went pro se in a hearing on the written record and came out on top. To be fair, I had been involved, as a witness in a previous hearing where the applicant was represented by an attorney. I learned a lot by observing the work of the attorney and their mistakes. So, I had a very good idea of what that judge was looking for an built my response to the FORM on that base. It also helped that I am a pretty good writer and took my time organizing my brief.

    The DC initially filed for an appeal and I was prepared to have an attorney review or file that brief but they decided, at the very last minute, not to file the appeal.

    So, I came out on top! Of course, now I’m waiting for a start date for my new job . . . Hopefully, early in the new year.

  10. About 30% of cases decided by DOHA AJs are based solely on the written record (FORM response) and only about 12% of those cases are favorably adjudicated. Of the cases that go to a DOHA hearing about 40% are favorably adjudicated. I believe in most cases it’s better to request a hearing. The benefit of a hearing for “Financial Considerations” may pretty small, because it is a relatively objective issue for most applicants, as compared to “Psychological Conditions” which is a very subjective issue. My gut tells me that applicants who benefit the most from a hearing are those with multiple issues and those with very subjective issues like Guidelines B, C, D, E, and I. Applicants have to weigh the additional cost/benefit of a hearing versus a FORM response.