WASHINGTON – As the deadline looms to avoid yet another federal government shutdown, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has introduced legislation that would protect federal employees and contractors from losing their security clearances due to financial reasons, such as poor credit scores, that are attributable to a lapse in federal appropriations. This would be applicable to the recent 35-day shutdown or any future occurrences. Using the Rule XIV process, the bill, Protecting Employees Security Clearances Act of 2019 (S. 464), was placed directly on the Senate calendar for consideration.
“We shouldn’t punish hard-working, patriotic public servants because they were forced to go without pay during a 35-day shutdown they did not cause,” said Senator Cardin. “Many federal workers and contractors are subject to high security standards that include rigorous and routine financial background checks. Missing payments on debts caused by the recent shutdown could create delays or difficulties in securing or renewing security clearances. Nearly 80 percent of Americans live from one paycheck to the next, meaning that they cannot afford to miss even a single paycheck. Federal workers and contractors are no different.
“Congress provided for backpay for federal employees, but that did not eliminate the 35 days of financial stress. We still have not approved backpay for federal contractors who also missed pay during the shutdown. Their security clearances – and their livelihoods – should not be in jeopardy as a result,” Cardin added.
Joining as original cosponsors of Protecting Employees Security Clearances Act of 2019 (S. 464), are Senators Leahy, Jones, Baldwin, Kaine, Feinstein, Hirono, Klobuchar, Durbin, Shaheen, Cortez Masto, Hassan, and Van Hollen.
The bill directs the Security Executive Agent to ensure that a lapse in appropriations (including the one that ended last month) is considered as a mitigating factor for initial or continued security clearance eligibility concerns during the adjudication process. More specifically, the bill states that “No head of any agency may revoke the national security eligibility of a covered employee because of a reduction in the credit score or negative information in a consumer credit file of the covered employee that is attributable to disrupted income payments as a result of a lapse in appropriations.”
Last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Agents Association (FBIAA) published a report entitled, “Voices From The Field: FBI Agent Accounts of the Real Consequences of the Government Shutdown.” The report warned of the dire national security consequences of the shutdown. It also documented the financial hardships FBIAA members were facing. Two comments from the FBIAA’s Central Region summed up the situation. One Agent wrote, “My wife and I are both FBI employees who were recently transferred to a new city and finally bought our first home. Now we can’t pay the mortgage for it. We contacted our lender, and they are refusing to work with us. They don’t want our ‘Hardship Letter’, they want money, period.” Another wrote, “There have been several employees who have gotten zero assistance from their mortgage lenders and banks regarding home and car loans and still have to make payments on time or get penalized. They are truly struggling to make ends meet.”