Furlough-caused financial problems could affect security clearances

Pentagon

Federal employees holding security clearances who run into financial trouble due to sequestration-caused furloughs should bring that issue to their agency’s attention to help protect their cleared status, according to two military services.

In guidance that could apply equally to employees of other agencies, the Navy has said its employees should notify their supervisors or their security officers in writing if the forced unpaid leave time causes financial troubles that would act as a security red flag.

Indebtedness is one of the potential indicators of reliability, trustworthiness and judgment that go into a decision on granting or continuing security clearances, which are needed for many federal jobs.

Similarly, an Air Force base has told its employees to “advise your supervisor if you are having financial issues that may impact your security clearance. Supervisors contact the Special Security Office (SSO) and document concerns/issues that can be considered next time clearance is due.”

Navy and Air Force employees, along with nearly all other Defense Department civilians, are facing unpaid furloughs of 22 days from late April through September, which would be spread out as one day a week on average. That would amount to a 20 percent pay cut for nearly half the year. Potential furloughs at many other agencies range from several days up to 22, the maximum an agency can impose without triggering complex layoff-type procedures.

“Employees who encounter financial problems due to a furlough should (1) work with their creditors to maintain their debts in a responsible manner; (2) keep documentation of their financial situation and communications with creditors; and (3) keep their local security office informed if they are experiencing financial problems,” says the Navy guidance.

It said that clearance determination standards “take into account the circumstances that led to a financial problem,” particularly if the problem is outside the individual’s control, as would be the case with unpaid furloughs.

Those standards also take into account “the individual’s actions to responsibly contend with financial problems,” and adjudicators “are sensitized to and also personally impacted by a furlough,” it says.

“Individuals should continue to pay their debts to the best of their ability and should maintain contact with their creditors to make arrangements to pay their debts, even if this means delaying or reducing payments,” it says. “Many creditors are willing to work with their customers in such situations. You should also keep clear, written documentation of your financial situation, payments made, and communications with your creditors so that you can provide this information if needed in assessing your clearance.”

For example, the Credit Union National Association has said  that many federal credit unions will offer special low-interest loans with flexible repayment terms and will allow existing loans to be extended, among other benefits for account holders who are furloughed.

The Thrift Savings Plan, the 401(k)-type federal employee retirement savings program, recently said that employees facing hardships could reduce their ongoing investments or take out loans or withdrawals, although it added that important considerations apply to each.

Also, the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund makes loans and in some cases grants to federal employees who meet its standards of financial hardship. However, that charity has warned  that its ability to help would be limited in the case of widespread furloughs, especially since its funding comes largely from federal employees themselves.

This post has been updated.

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Josh Hicks · March 5, 2013

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