How to Respond to the SOR
OK, you’ve received a Statement of Reasons, looking something like the image to the right, perhaps going on for a few pages, and you are asking yourself “How do I respond to this?”
Security clearance appeals are very fact driven. Even very good facts must be organized and presented clearly and persuasively to answer the concerns raised.
First Step: Admit or Deny Each Charge
The first step is to admit or deny each fact claimed in the SOR. The SOR is typically written in numbered paragraphs so you can respond specifically to each charge. At most agencies, if you do not specifically answer each paragraph your response will be sent back for correction.
Admitting or denying can be as simple as a handwritten “admit” or “deny” next to the factual allegation. For example if a numbered paragraph says, “You were convicted of a DUI in the District Court of Madison Wisconsin in October 2013.” and that is exactly true, you can just write “Admit” next to the charge. If nothing about the charge is true, as in you were never convicted of a DUI anywhere, you can similarly write “Deny” next to the charge.
Responding to the Confused Charge
As often as not some detail of a factual claim is wrong. How do you respond to the partially false SOR? Taking the above DUI example, suppose the month or the city is wrong, or the charge was reckless driving, or the charge was dismissed after probation.
Don’t split hairs, but do be accurate. Don’t admit to a partially wrong charge without clarifying what about it is wrong. Don’t deny a partially true charge without spelling out what part is true. Your response speaks to who you are. The forthcoming and frank answer says you are a straight shooter. The technically correct simple denial of a partially true claim says you want to game the system. The truth will come out. Which “you” do you want the adjudicator to see?
Support your Response to an SOR.
- If you have documentary proof that a claim is wrong or partially wrong, you should include it with your response. One document is worth 10 assurances. If the SOR says “You owe Smith $1,000” and you paid that debt off and have acknowledgement of the payment, you should include a copy in your response.
- Do not throw in the kitchen sink and include irrelevant or ambiguous documents. That will just confuse things, present the reviewer with a stack of useless papers, and push your case to the bottom of the pile.
- Do forward clear and convincing documentation. What detail is called for should be discussed with a knowledgeable security clearance lawyer.
Some factual claims in an SOR simply cannot be resolved by a clarifying answer and demand further proceedings. An example could be a charge that you are in contact with relatives in a foreign country. If true, how often you speak with or write to them is usually not going to change the agency’s mind at the pre-hearing stage. In such instances you may want to provide some detail, but maybe not. Too much will confuse the reviewer. How much, and in what manner and when, should be discussed with a knowledgeable security clearance lawyer.
Focus on the Concerns Raised in the Statement of Reasons
Sometimes a narrative response to an SOR may be appropriate. Whether your situation calls for a narrative response should be discussed with a knowledgeable security clearance lawyer.
A winning narrative response addresses the exact concerns raised in the SOR and when possible refutes or mitigate those concerns. What is the real concern?
- For example, if the SOR claims you intentionally failed to list an arrest, it matters little that you are generally a law abiding citizen who is regarded as an upstanding member of your community or even that the arrest did not result in a conviction. The concern is that you are a liar. You need to explain why you did not list the arrest.
- Similarly, if you are charged with a DUI, it is irrelevant to that concern that you are a loyal American citizen who loves your country. You will need to explain what your state of mind (and intoxication) was, how you came to be in the situation where you were charged with the offense, and why that will not happen again.
What detail to add and when to add it, what proofs to produce and when to produce them are tactical decisions that should not be made in ignorance. Experienced security clearance lawyers understand how different review levels process information. what authority to affect the result resides at different levels of review, and how timing can affect outcomes.
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