Four Commerce Department political appointees working on interim security clearances lost their jobs Tuesday because of problems in their background checks, the latest fallout from the intensifying public scrutiny on administration officials working without permanent clearances.
The department determined that the four appointees — including one who worked for the agency for nearly a year and served for several months as a senior adviser to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross — should not be given access to classified information, according to multiple officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters.
Commerce Department officials declined to comment on any terminations or resignations related to security clearance problems.
In a statement, the department said it is “prohibited by the Privacy Act from discussing personal information about employees. The standard background and hiring practices are followed by the Department and, whenever concerns are raised during that process, the Department acts immediately.”
The Commerce Department departures come as the White House has scrambled to answer why dozens of staffers — including senior adviser Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law — still lack permanent security clearances. Kushner’s top-secret interim clearance was downgraded Friday.
The Commerce Department made the decision to oust the four appointees, according to a White House official.
Among the Commerce appointees who lost their jobs Tuesday was Fred Volcansek, who served as a senior adviser to Ross for several months last year. Since April, he has worked as executive director of SelectUSA, a program that promotes foreign investment in the United States.
Volcansek, who served in the Commerce Department in the George H.W. Bush administration, is a former mayor of Clifton, Tex. He worked as an advance staffer organizing events for Trump’s campaign, according to his LinkedIn page.
Volcansek said in an interview that agency officials would not tell him why they were terminating him.
“What’s interesting is that my investigation went on for 13 months,” he said. “If they found something . . . why didn’t they bring it up before?”
Three other Commerce appointees also left their posts after they were told they would not receive security clearances: Chris Garcia, acting head of the department’s minority business development agency; Edgar Mkrtchian, senior adviser to the International Trade Administration; and Justin Arlett, adviser to the director for the Economic Development Administration, according to multiple officials.
Mkrtchian and Arlett declined to comment. Garcia said in a brief interview that he had been planning to leave the agency for several weeks and decided to resign on Tuesday.
In general, people can be denied a security clearance for a wide variety of reasons. Among the most common: withholding information from a government disclosure form, past criminal convictions, compromising contacts or being the subject of an investigation.
Clarification: An earlier version of this article referred imprecisely in one instance to the circumstances under which Commerce Department appointee Edgar Mkrtchian left his position. He resigned after being told he would not receive a security clearance; he was never denied a clearance. The story has been revised. (March 6)
Alice Crites, Tom Hamburger and Nick Miroff contributed to this report.