You Can Quit a Cleared Job, But You’ll Take Misconduct Violations With You
The fine print in Privacy Act notices outline the routine uses for federal agencies that collect information from individuals. In the case of background investigations, when you sign the release form you are consenting to allow that agency to disclose the investigative materials to other federal agencies for specific uses. Why is this important? It allows agencies to exchange information about employees who are under investigation or pending an adverse action when the individual resigns and transfers to another agency before the action has been finalized. This practice was reinforced by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago in the case of Ms. Harriett Ames, a former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) employee who had transferred to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).
Ms. Ames was the Chief of Personnel Security for FEMA and as a part of her duties was responsible for granting security clearances. An investigation was initiated by the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) into allegations that Ames had inappropriately granted two security clearances that should have been denied. Additionally, she made false statements during questioning by the OIG. Prior to the DHS OIG completing their investigation, Ames, apparently seeing the writing on the wall, left her position for a similar position with the NGA. Perhaps she thought that by moving her past troubles would not follow her. Unfortunately for her, the DHS OIG, once they found out she had left to go work at the NGA, provided NGA with the final report of investigation outlining her misconduct. Ames was terminated from her position and subsequently filed a lawsuit in court claiming the DHS OIG had violated the Privacy Act by disclosing the report to the NGA.
The court upheld the actions by the DHS OIG and cited the routine uses as noted on their Privacy Act statement which allow disclosure of records (i) to other federal agencies “charged with investigating or prosecuting” violations of law, (ii) where the record “indicates a violation or potential violation of law,” and (iii) where such disclosure is “proper and consistent with the official duties of the person making the disclosure.” DHS had a responsibility to ensure that the NGA had all information necessary to determine whether Ames continued to meet security clearance eligibility and federal employment requirements.