The government shutdown is entering day 16, and if you’re a national security employee, you’re probably still working. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you’re still getting a paycheck. While the Defense Department is working with appropriated funds, workers in the departments of Justice, State and elsewhere are now one pay period into not getting their regularly scheduled paycheck.
As past government shutdowns indicate, federal workers are likely to receive back pay for any days they were furloughed without a paycheck. But that doesn’t apply to furloughed contractors, who may be taking leave days or leave without pay. And while the government is shut down, the banks, credit card companies, and utility providers aren’t—the bills will continue to roll in, even if the paychecks don’t.
Financial Issues and Your Security Clearance
We recently analyzed the top reasons for security clearance denial in 2018. It should be no surprise that finances continue to top the reasons for security clearance denial and revocation. (Financial issues cause more clearance denials and revocations than all other issues combined). And now that the government has access to your credit report at any time thanks to continuous monitoring, security clearance holders do have good reasons to be concerned that financial hardships brought about by the shutdown could affect their security clearance.
“Generally-speaking, a security clearance holder should be concerned any time she or he gets into financial difficulties,” notes security clearance attorney and ClearanceJobs contributor Sean Bigley. “Accounts in collections or ‘charge-off’ status, repossessions, foreclosures, and similar issues can all be viewed by the government as evidence that the clearance holder is not living within their means or is demonstrating a lack of personal responsibility incompatible with expectations.”
The Office of Personnel Management sent employees a sample letter to send to their creditors, to inform them about the government shutdown and note what they will be able to pay (in lieu of making full payments). They also advised employees to call creditors before they send the letter, to get direct advice on how to address their payment plans during the shutdown.
When Debt Is a Problem
The issue becomes a problem for security clearance holders who have been habitually late paying their bills—even before the partial government shutdown. For employees who have a pattern of being 30 to 60 days late making payments and who find the government shutdown exacerbates this problem, the effect on their credit score may be significant.
Just because their credit score is hurt, however, doesn’t mean they’ll lose their security clearance. The current government shutdown may cause more employees to be flagged under continuous evaluation (although this is less likely, since most evaluation currently covers Defense employees, who are still getting paid), but just because a clearance is flagged does not mean the employee would lose eligibility. Cleared employees have the chance to mitigate any issues on appeal, and can take advantage of the ‘whole-person’ concept in arguing why they should keep a clearance. If your financial issues are directly related to the government shutdown, you will not lose your security clearance for a temporary reduction in your credit score or inability to pay bills.
“Circumstances beyond the clearance holder’s control—for example, a government shutdown—are most always viewed as mitigating details, provided the clearance holder acted reasonably under the circumstances,” said Bigley.
The caveat, however, is if the government shutdown exacerbates a pattern of financial irresponsibility. If the government sees a pattern of spending more than you make, and thousands of dollars in unpaid bills that are not shutdown related, you will have a hard time arguing the shutdown is to blame.
“My advice to clearance holders with finances impacted by the government shutdown is simply this: don’t panic, but also don’t go out and buy the new luxury car you’ve been eyeing until the government shutdown is resolved,” advises Bigley. “As long as you are acting as a reasonable, prudent person would act in the face of temporary financial uncertainty, you’ll probably be just fine.”
Lindy Kyzer is the editor of ClearanceJobs.com and a former Defense Department employee.