Shutdown Consequences: Could a Drop in Credit Score Lead to Loss of Security Clearance?

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Financial experts say not to worry, but at least one lawmaker wants assurances from the White House.

As the current government shutdown becomes the longest running ever, one senator is asking the administration to ensure falling credit scores don’t affect security clearances.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., sent a letter Friday to the heads of the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management asking they ensure applicants who are current government employees aren’t penalized for not being able to pay their bills during the shutdown.

Federal employees missed their first full paychecks on Friday, which will likely mean difficult decisions as bills come due. In some cases, delinquency on those bills could have an adverse effect on an employee’s credit score, which, in turn, could have a serious effect on whether they qualify for a top-level security clearance.

Warner cited a portion of the official guidance for determining whether a person qualifies for a security clearance: “[F]ailure or inability to live within one’s means, satisfy debts or meet financial obligations … can raise questions about an applicant’s reliability, trustworthiness and ability to protect classified national security information.”

He notes the inability to pay rent—or even just a delay—can lower a person’s credit score, making them ineligible for certain top clearances.

“Due to absolutely no fault of their own, the jobs of dedicated government personnel whom we entrust with the nation’s secrets could be at stake,” Warner wrote, asking OMB Director and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert to issue official guidance that such employees not be penalized.

In a recent column posted on Nextgov’s sister site, GovExec, Lindy Kyzer, a former Defense Department employee and current editor of ClearanceJobs.com, noted financial issues are one of the top reasons people are denied security clearances. That said, a temporary lapse isn’t going to raise the same flags as a history of missing bills.

“The current government shutdown may cause more employees to be flagged under continuous evaluation … but just because a clearance is flagged does not mean the employee would lose eligibility,” Kyzer wrote. “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.”

Kyzer also cites security clearance attorney and ClearanceJobs.com contributor Sean Bigley, who advocated for financial prudence but said panic is unnecessary.

“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,” Kyzer quotes Bigley as saying. “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.”