Academic Misconduct Can Affect Security Clearance Eligibility

Even though academic misconduct allegations can often be attributed to youthful mistakes or may even be the result of a misunderstanding, it's important that you seek legal guidance right away when mounting a defense against accusations.

The mistakes students make while they're in school can have far-reaching consequences that don't materialize until many years down the road. Specifically, academic misconduct that includes cheating, plagiarism, and other acts of dishonesty can prove to be a bar to federal security clearance eligibility when entering the workforce. Security clearance can even be revoked if the misconduct occurs after you've already received your clearance.

It may come as a surprise to learn that numerous jobs require a security clearance. The federal government employs, or contracts with, just over 9 million workers, many of whom require security clearance to perform their duties. If you have your sights set on a career with the State Department, or you're already in an ROTC program, then this number may not come as a shock to you. The important thing to know, though, is that academic misconduct can jeopardize current or future security clearance eligibility, ultimately limiting your job outlook.

Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm vast experience helping students and their parents through the defense process of academic misconduct allegations. Attorney Lento and his team understand how important your academic record is in terms of future success.

ROTC Cadets Accused of Academic Misconduct

The ROTC is an attractive path through higher education for many individuals. ROTC cadets receive training for military service, college tuition, and job security upon graduation. Students in ROTC programs may ultimately end up in the Air Force, the Marines, the Navy, or the Army, and as such, there will come a point when they must obtain a certain security clearance.

This point sometimes comes earlier than cadets expect, however, because the federal government wants to ensure that cadets are eligible for security clearance before investing time and resources into their training.

Importantly, ROTC programs also require students to maintain certain GPA averages during the course of their college careers. An academic misconduct investigation that results in suspension, expulsion, or the failure of a course will undoubtedly impact their ROTC standing. ROTC cadets who've signed a scholarship contract with the program will additionally lose all of their funding if this occurs, so the competent defense of misconduct allegations is paramount.

Over 4 Million Government Employees and Private Contractors Require Security Clearance

The federal government is responsible for 6% of the workforce in the United States, and at least 4 million of those hired must obtain a security clearance.

If you're in school now and don't have immediate post-graduate plans to seek out a government position that requires security clearance, you should still conduct yourself in a manner that wouldn't close the door on federal employment opportunities down the line. After all, federal jobs are coveted for their benefit programs and stability.

Regardless of whether you're planning to become a lawyer, doctor, or an accountant, there's an opportunity for you within the federal government. You don't want to risk the chance to practice your profession within the applicable government branch just because you exercised poor judgment when you were younger and then suffered an inadequate defense of that judgment.

If you're accused of academic misconduct, you need to think about how it will impact your future in addition to the present. The investigation and disciplinary actions handed down by your school are often severe, and a record of it will be maintained in your file and later discovered when you apply for security clearance.

An experienced attorney-advisor will advocate for you and leverage their experience to negotiate with your school's disciplinary board to minimize damage to your future federal employment opportunity.

Private Contractors Also Need Security Clearance

The federal government hires millions of private contractors, and they too are often required to obtain security clearance before they're able to start their work. According to a CRS Report, over 1 million contractors received security clearance in 2015.

Private contractors are individuals who are party to a contract with a federal agency or department, wherein the contractor agrees to provide services or products to the federal government. The services can range from Department of Defense needs to IT Security needs and more.

In some cases, you may be required to obtain security clearance even when you haven't personally entered into a contract with the federal government. For example, if the company you work for enters into a federal contract to provide a service that you will contribute to, then you may be required to have security clearance if you're given classified information to perform the duties of your job.

The Three Types of Security Clearance

Security Clearance is defined as a determination that a federal employee or a private contractor “is eligible for access to national security information.”

There are a variety of security clearance types falling into three main categories—Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret. The higher the security clearance required, the more in-depth the background check into your past will be. Almost no stone will be left unturned, and you can be sure that those handling your clearance eligibility investigation will find out if you have a misconduct record from years earlier.

Confidential Security Clearance is the most common and most easily obtained type of clearance. Confidential Security Clearance will be required when the job you're applying for involves access to classified information that could pose damage to the nation's security. Cybersecurity analysts and information systems operators or engineers are a few examples of the kinds of jobs that may require a confidential security clearance.

The second level of security clearance is called Secret Security Clearance and will be required when an individual has access to confidential information that could cause serious harm or damage to the United States if handled inappropriately. These positions have more to do with your access to the information than they do the seniority of your position, and even administrative assistance within the federal government may be required to obtain Secret Security Clearance.

Finally, the third and most stringent type of security clearance is Top Secret Security Clearance. This clearance is reserved for federal employees handling the most sensitive information related to national security. Misuses of this sensitive information could result in “exceptionally grave damage” to the country. If you seek out Top Secret Security Clearance, the clearance investigators will conduct interviews with friends, family, educators, those who knew you in college, and so on.

Security clearance eligibility lasts for the duration of your job or for five years—whichever is shorter. It's also important to note that you can be reinvestigated at any time during your clearance period, so if academic misconduct occurs after you receive your clearance but before the expiration of your clearance period, you can still find yourself in hot water if you don't immediately secure counsel from a knowledgeable student misconduct defense attorney who can mitigate the disciplinary actions threatened by your school.

Academic Misconduct That Can Jeopardize Your Security Clearance Eligibility

You might wonder how academic misconduct can jeopardize your security clearance. While other types of misconduct, such as sexual misconduct or discriminatory misconduct, seem an obvious red flag to security clearance, academic misconduct appears rather benign by comparison.