Security Clearance Background Checks Lead to Shakeups in the Commerce Department

By Michael Klazema on 3/20/2018

The United States Department of Commerce recently parted ways with four employees after their security clearance background checks came back with issues. Per a report from The Washington Post, the employees had ranks as high as senior advisor to the Secretary of Commerce.

The federal government has faced controversy in recent months over its tendency to give some employees high-security clearances before their background checks clear. Because the security clearance process is so work-intensive and inefficient, it takes months for the government to complete background checks. To get new appointees into their jobs on a timely basis, the government has taken to issuing “interim security clearances.” In other words, employees have been permitted to start work—and in some cases, access information and documents pertaining to matters of national security—with no completed background checks on file.

In most cases, employers do not risk hiring new employees or letting them start their jobs without background checks on file. By requiring new employees to pass background checks before finalizing their hiring or setting a start date, employers can help avoid claims of negligence in hiring.

Recently, the government has been under fire for essentially appointing new people first and asking questions later. The most well-reported example is Jared Kushner, a senior advisor to President Trump (as well as the President’s son-in-law). Until very recently, Kushner had a top-secret security clearance even though he had not cleared a background check. His security clearance was downgraded but only after months of outcry.

Kushner was not the only person in government working on an interim security clearance, reports note. One was Fred Volcansek, the executive director of a program called SelectUSA. Last year, Volcansek worked closely with Wilbur Ross as the Secretary of Commerce’s senior advisor. Volcansek said his security clearance investigation had been pending for the past 13 months. Only this week did the Department of Commerce let him know there was an issue with his background check.

It remains unknown which red flag led to Volansek’s resignation. The same is true for the other three Commerce Department employees who left the department after problems with their background checks came to light. Those individuals—Justin Arlett, an advisor for the Director of the Economic Development Agency; Chris Garcia, acting head of the Commerce Department’s minority business development agency; and Edgar Mkrtchian, a senior advisor for the International Trade Administration—resigned from their posts after being informed that they had been denied permanent security clearances.

Employers run a major risk by not finishing the background check process before new hires start their jobs. In addition to negligent hiring, there are also matters of employee retention and overall efficiency. The Department of Commerce will now need to fill four positions—and train replacements—for jobs that had been occupied for months. That process promises to be costly and inefficient, as well as yet another PR blow against the security clearance process.

At, we help employers avoid issues like these with fast background checks. Some of our checks process instantly, while others take no more than a few days. The speed makes it possible for employers to make smart hiring calls and get new employees into vacant positions without requiring them to take any risks with interim responsibilities or security clearances.


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