Security Clearance: The 'Whole Person' Concept

If you’re seeking security clearance, you will have to go through a detailed background investigation, which can go as far back as your high school days, if not earlier. All aspects of your life will be examined, such as your finances, your credit score, your education, any history of substance abuse, your criminal record history (if any), if you had any disciplinary actions against you at school or with an employer, and so on.

If you’re like most people, you have some black marks in your past. Perhaps you got a DUI in college, or you filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy when you were injured in a car accident or lost your job. Maybe your house was foreclosed upon during the recession, or may you got into a fight at a bar in your twenties and you were charged with assault. Perhaps you were diagnosed with PTSD after you came back from active duty in the military.

The point is, bad things happen, and when you’re applying for security clearance, it’s like all of those bad things buried deep in your past will resurface. But will they ruin your chances at security clearance?

Are You Trustworthy or Not?

When it comes down to security clearance, the government is concerned with who is trustworthy and who isn’t. To determine this, the government uses the “whole person” concept, which means a single issue will not automatically result in someone’s security clearance being denied. If you have baggage in your past, such as jail time for a marijuana possession charge, getting fired for telling off your overbearing boss, filing bankruptcy, assaulting a guy on the street who was abusing his dog, having panic attacks – any of those can be mitigated by demonstrating your full character, and why you can be trusted to safeguard government secrets. This is called the “whole person” concept.

Why It’s a Good Thing for Applicants

The whole person concept is a very good thing for those applying for security clearance, but there is some ambiguity. What may be an issue for one applicant may not be an issue at all for another; it’s handled on a case-by-case basis. For example, an applicant who punched a man for abusing a dog may be given leniency if it was an isolated incident, but if the applicant had a long history of assaulting people, that dog incident would not necessarily be forgiven. It’s about weighing all the data.

Who are you now? You’re more than that bad decision you made in high school or when you drank and drove that one New Year’s Eve. Fortunately, the government’s whole person policy agrees with that concept.