When you’ve had an embarrassing legal or financial incident, that’s often news you’d rather keep to yourself. But if you hold a security clearance, you may be legally bound to disclose that information.

Self-reporting security concerns is an important element of security clearance.

“Generally speaking, a government employee, contractor or member of the armed forces who has a security clearance or has applied for clearance is duty-bound to report security concerns in a timely fashion,” says Catie Young, a California security clearance lawyer. “Failing to do so could result in their security clearance being revoked, suspended or denied.”

The Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office receives about 8,000 incident reports a year on people who have had security-related problems, according to a Clearance Jobs article. The bulk of them were self-reported by the employee or their security officer.

This is what the Department of Defense Personnel Security Program policy says about self-reporting:

“Individuals having access to classified information must report promptly to their security office:

Any form of contact, intentional or otherwise, with individuals of any nationality, whether within or outside the scope of the employee’s official activities, in which:

(A) Illegal or unauthorized access is sought to classified or otherwise sensitive information.

(B) The employee is concerned that he or she may be the target of exploitation by a foreign entity.

Co-workers have an equal obligation to advise their supervisor or appropriate security official when they become aware of information with potentially serious security significance regarding someone with access to classified information or employed in a sensitive position.”

Other incidents that must be self-reported include:

  • Criminal or dishonest conduct
  • Acts that indicate poor judgment, untrustworthiness or unreliability
  • Accumulation of excessive debt
  • Habitual use of drugs or alcohol
  • Additional examples are listed here

Security clearance holders who have access to “Sensitive Compartmented Information” or other “Special Access Programs” have additional activities that must be self-reported, including foreign travel, according to Clearance Jobs. Some agencies require self-reporting of any “contact with individuals from ‘designated’ countries and visits to any foreign embassy or consulate.”

Failing to self-report is likely to make the problem worse in the long run, Young says.

“If your home is in foreclosure and you don’t self-report, but your employer ultimately finds out, you’ve turned a situation that involved a financial problem into a situation that now involves a financial problem and a dishonesty problem,” she says. “This is the type of incident that can result in your security clearance being suspended or revoked.”

When you are concerned whether you are required to report an incident, ask your security officer or consult an attorney who specializes in security clearance law.

An attorney who specializes in this area of law may also be able to offer helpful guidance for self-reported incidents that leave you concerned that you may lose your clearance, and therefore, your job. Hiring a professional to help you properly defend yourself and mitigate the circumstances could be the key to keeping your clearance and your livelihood.