This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

Security clearance holders are expected to self-report security issues or incidents that may impact their ability to hold a security clearance.

Security Executive Agent Directive (SEAD) 4 is the applicable guide for clearance holders to determine whether a new incident or development touches upon a security concern which triggers a duty to self-report. Self-reporting is required and not doing so can cause harm to a security clearance holder. Furthermore, it is generally much better to be proactive in disclosing reportable events than for them to be discovered later.

Disclosing security incidents prior to them being discovered by clearance investigators can be considered a potential mitigating factor. Of course, there is also often many concerns in reporting security incidents by clearance holders which should be answered by an attorney experienced in security clearance law. Following legal advice, the usual first step in disclosing a new security concern involves contacting the individual’s security officer.

For example, if an individual is arrested for driving under the influence, it would be important to reach out to the security officer for guidance and first steps. The security officer may ask the individual to complete a form known as the SF-86C or other documentation to document the concern.

Timing is important. Self-reporting security incidents should be done, in many cases, as soon as possible. There are several examples of types of incidents that should be reported.  The following are just a few examples which may trigger the duty to report a new security issue:

  • Financial Issues — Reporting negative financial circumstances such as bankruptcy, state or federal tax liens or unusual adverse financial debt issues.
  • Arrests — Reporting any arrest, even if charges were not ultimately filed.
  • Marriage — Reporting marriages, other new serious relationships or changes in co-habitation.
  • Psychological or Substance Abuse Counseling — Reporting certain mental health and substance abuse issues impacting judgment or reliability.
  • Illegal drug use — Reporting the use of marijuana and other drugs still considered illegal on a federal level.
  • The Loss or Classified Information or Technology — Reporting inadvertent or accidental loss or compromise of classified or other sensitive information.
  • Foreign Contacts — Reporting unusual or substantial foreign contacts, especially those where classified or sensitive information is sought by the foreign contact.
  • Foreign Travel — Reporting travel outside the United States (other than for official business).

There are countless of other types of incidents that may need to be reported to a security officer, so if an individual has any questions it is often advisable to get legal advice as soon as possible. The Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) has issued a notice which helps outline the self-reporting obligations of security clearance holders.

Contact Us

If you need assistance with a security clearance issues, please contact our office at (703) 668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook.

The preceding sponsored post was also published on FFXnow.com

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By Melissa L. Watkins, Esq.

On March 3, 2022, President Biden signed the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021 (H.R. 4445).

The law took effect immediately and was approved with overwhelming support in the House of Representatives, with a vote of 335 to 97. The Senate followed suit, passing the law, without amendment, by voice vote. This new law is more than just giving victims of sexual harassment and assault “their day in court.” It’s also about forcing employers to put more effort into addressing sexual assault or harassment claims.

What is Forced Arbitration?

Forced arbitration is a controversial employment practice that is used by many employers requiring employees to arbitrate legal disputes with the company rather than going to court. Forced arbitration occurs when an employer conditions initial employment, continued employment, or important employment benefits on the employee’s agreement to arbitrate any future claims against the employer.

Companies use such arbitration agreements to bar access to the courts for all types of legal claims, including employment discrimination and sexual harassment claims. If an employment right protected by a federal or state law has been violated and the employee has signed a mandatory arbitration agreement, that employee does not have access to the courts and instead must handle the claim through the arbitration procedure set out in the arbitration agreement that she or he was required to sign.

Some of the downsides of an employee being forced into arbitration (instead of going to court) often include higher costs/fees for employees, less opportunity to obtain key evidence in preparation for cases and the employer’s ability to force a less convenient location (i.e. in another state far away) for the arbitration; many other downsides exist.

What Does the Law Change?

The law allows an employee alleging sexual harassment or sexual assault in the workplace to opt out of the pre-dispute arbitration agreement. However, the law only applies to disputes that arise after March 3, 2022. In other words, the new law does not apply to sexual harassment or sexual assault claims that occurred prior to March 3, 2022. However, this new law applies regardless of when the employee may have signed an arbitration agreement.

What Does the Change Mean for Employees?

Employees should understand that arbitration agreements are not automatically invalid as a result of the new law, but an employee can choose to avoid them where the law applies. The employee, not the employer, now gets to choose whether to litigate their sexual assault or harassment claims in court or through arbitration.

Often, employees alleging sexual assault or sexual harassment also allege other claims, such as discrimination or retaliation. Given the recency of the law, it is not yet fully known whether the law will allow all claims brought in a case involving sexual harassment or sexual assault, including discrimination and retaliation, to avoid an arbitration agreement.

However, given the wording of the law, referring to “cases” and not just “claims” it is likely that the law will allow employees to bring all claims in a case, even those not involving sexual harassment, into court rather than arbitration.

It is also important to note that even if an employee does not wish to sue in court, the employee can still raise a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). We have also included a link to the EEOC table showing the number of claims involving sexual harassment in the private sector filed since 2010. These numbers illustrate just how pervasive this problem is in workplaces throughout the country.

There are multiple ways in which an employee can going about raising such concerns and speaking with experienced legal counsel can allow you to evaluate all of your options. This new law is just the first step in freeing employees from forced arbitration in sexual harassment and assault cases.

CONTACT US

If you are an employee in need of employment law representation, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or through our contact page to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook and Twitter.

The preceding sponsored post was also published on FFXnow.com

Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction

By Nicola Caul Shelley, Synergy Design & Construction

We’ve been in the home remodeling business a long time. We know it can be overwhelming when you start thinking about a kitchen remodel and all the decisions that have to be made. We’re here to help make life a little easier. Here are five design tips when it comes to remodeling your kitchen to get you started!

 1. The Kitchen ‘Triangle’

This one is a BIG one. We often say a great home remodel starts with figuring out how you actually use the space. Function first, form follows. When it comes to kitchen design, one of the first considerations is the kitchen ‘triangle’. Simply put, this is the most effective layout between the refrigerator, stove and sink, usually loosely based on a triangle. It’s not a hard and fast rule (and one that has undergone some changes with the addition of multiple kitchen ‘zones’ over the years), but it’s a great place to start with your dream kitchen remodel.

Got a galley kitchen or other layout that doesn’t lend itself to the triangle rule? No problem! The main consideration is to think through the best flow and energy efficiency of your space to minimize the back and forth between cooking, cleaning and storing areas.

In this kitchen remodel in Reston, the redesign of the kitchen included the sink and refrigerator along one wall with the stove on the left forming the third point of the ‘triangle’. This remodel also highlights another kitchen design issue to consider — cabinet height! Read on for more information…

The Kitchen Triangle (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction)

 2. The Kitchen Island

The kitchen island has made it onto the “must have” list for many homeowners. Kitchen islands are great in large kitchens and provide tons of prep space, storage and a gathering place when everyone inevitably ends up in the kitchen! They also work great in smaller spaces where walls are being removed to open up a kitchen to a dining area or family room, for example.

A growing trend in recent years has been the addition of not one but two kitchen islands. Two islands allow you to have one dedicated to prep and/or cooking and another for casual dining/entertaining. This kitchen remodel in Herndon features two islands and shows how the kitchen now seamlessly blends into the family room and dining area.

Double Kitchen Islands (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction)

The general rule of thumb is that aisles in the kitchen should be at least 36″ wide. Ideally, the aisle in a cooking zone should be 42″ to 48″ depending on your cooking configuration. Island and peninsula sizes should be adjusted accordingly.

Lastly, if you have a small or galley kitchen with no room for an island, fear not! There are LOTS of really great versatile options for moveable islands that double up as dining tables or bar areas that won’t break your remodeling budget.

3. Cabinet Height

Nothing says “wow” more than kitchen cabinets that go all the way to the ceiling. Adding  cabinets that go to the ceiling WILL add cost to your remodel, but if look outweighs budget considerations and it’s something you really want, go for it!

Ceiling height cabinets look at home in all types of kitchen designs from transitional to contemporary. If your aesthetic leans more transitional, a good way to break up cabinet “blocks” is with the use of smaller, glass fronted upper cabinets. This allows for the storage and display of treasured, but infrequently used, items. A great example of this can be seen in this local home remodel. The interior cabinet lighting is the final touch to this elegant space!

Cabinet Height (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction)

In more contemporary homes, slab fronted cabinets that run all the way to the ceiling create a sleek, ultramodern look that oozes a designer feel and keeps the lines clean and crisp. In this home remodel in Reston, a “cloud” ceiling detail was added that dropped the ceiling height creating the illusion of a much bigger space. The contemporary white cabinets are warmed up by the contrasting wood tones.

Cabinet Height (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction)

Many mid-century homes in this area have sloped ceilings that don’t lend themselves to ceiling-height cabinets. If you work with an experienced kitchen designer, they will help you figure out the layout that works best for your home. Our in-house Interior Designer, Emily, not only partners with all of our clients on the actual kitchen cabinet type and color, she also produces realistic 3D images that help give clients a real sense of what the finished space will look like. The image below shows a 3D image for a local home remodel in Reston with a sloping roof that is currently under construction. Watch this space for the finished product!

Cabinet Height (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction)

Looking for more cabinet inspiration? Check out project Before & Afters on our website.

4. Let’s Talk Trash

OK, so it’s not one of the most glamorous or exciting things on the home remodeling checklist, but don’t forget about your trash location! Nothing ruins a beautifully remodeled kitchen more than a large free-standing trash can stuck on the end of a cabinet or beside an island. Incorporate your trash receptacles into a cabinet somewhere near the sink or main prep area. You won’t regret it! These days, most quality cabinet lines include options for both regular and recycling cans to be contained within one pull-out cabinet, either on the kitchen perimeter or kitchen island.

Can you spot the location of the trash in this home remodel in Vienna? These homeowners decided to locate their trash and recycling cans to the left of the sink. This photo also provides a preview of our next design tip — the microwave drawer!

Hidden Trash (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction)

 5. Small Appliance Consideration: Microwaves

There was a time when there were only two microwave options: a hung microwave at eye level installed above the stove or a free-standing one sitting on a countertop. There is a third option: the microwave drawer. They’ve been around for a long time, but they’re often not top-of-the-list when it comes to kitchen design considerations. They should be! Microwave drawers can be integrated into your kitchen design and tucked away in an island.

What we love about them is that they are not only stylish, they are safer when it comes to lifting hot containers/bowls. Instead of having to reach up to take out hot liquids at head and shoulder level, microwave drawers allow you to lift hot food up onto a countertop. Microwave drawers are also a great universal design consideration. Growing children, older adults and those with mobility considerations can more easily reach a drawer independently, and the drawers typically open on their own with the touch of a button, making them easier to use with less strength.

For most of our clients, once you’ve had a microwave drawer in your kitchen, there is no going back. The photo below of a kitchen remodel in Oakton shows a microwave drawer installed in a beautiful blue island.

Microwave Drawer (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction)

What design tips or questions do you have? Let us know in the comments!

Looking for a local home remodeling company to partner with on your dream kitchen remodel? We’ve been in business in the Reston area helping local homeowners renovate happy for almost 15 years! Get in touch! Our consultations are FREE.

The preceding sponsored post was also published on FFXnow.com

The Kensington Reston Open House April 3

Join our open house on Sunday, April 3 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
By appointment only by RSVPing.

We invite you to join The Kensington Reston for a peek inside our community at our Hello Spring Open House!

Gather with us to celebrate the warmer weather and longer days of spring. Visit our community to experience the Kensington Difference for yourself. From the moment you step inside, you’ll feel an indescribable sense of family, belonging and home.

Stop by and meet our team of best-in-class professionals whose spirit of uncompromising commitment to excellence in care and service is brighter than ever. Learn about how our assisted living and memory care services are multi-faceted and highly personalized. We are a family of families that cherish the fact that every single day, we get to contribute care, attention and friendship to our residents.

To ensure your safety and the safety of our residents, our Hello Spring Open House is by appointment only. We are fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 and we are taking all the necessary precautions to keep our community safe. Our team is also available to meet virtually!

To RSVP, or for questions about joining our Kensington Family or our COVID-19 protocols, click here.

The preceding sponsored post was also published on FFXnow.com

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

Virginia, the first state to enact COVID-19 workplace rules in July of 2020, has now become the first state to end them.

The action was taken following a vote on March 21, 2022, by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s (DOLI) Safety and Health Codes Board (Safety Board). Under the previous standards, Virginia employers had a number of requirements with respect to COVID-19, including indoor masking in higher-risk areas and reporting COVID-19 outbreaks to the Virginia Department of Health. These standards have been rescinded.

Workplace safety is governed by both the federal Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) and state and local rules. States, like Virginia, with workplace safety agencies are required to have rules that are at least as effective as those set by OSHA.

OSHA originally attempted to enact rules regarding COVID-19 vaccines and COVID-19 testing, but the effort was dropped after being blocked by the Supreme Court. As a result, employers now remain subject to various state and local regulations with respect to COVID-19 issues.

New Guidance for Employers

While the prior rules are ending, new guidance is being finalized. Virginia employers still remain subject to workplace safety rules by DOLI, Virginia Occupational Safety and Health Programs (VOSH). VOSH has just proposed draft guidance for general health and safety rules concerning COVID-19 in the workplace.

The draft guidance, 5 pages in length, provides expectations for Virginia employers for handling COVID-19 employment issues, including, but not limited to:

  1. Encouraging employees with COVID-19 symptoms to stay home
  2. Assisting employees seeking to get vaccinated or in receiving booster shots
  3. Requiring employees infected with COVID-19 to stay home
  4. Providing employees masks or coverings as appropriate

There are many other items in the draft guidance, that employers and employees should review. The draft rules are still under review and the public may comment beginning March 28, 2022, until April 27, 2022.  It is likely that the draft rules will mostly remain the same as the final rules eventually issued.

Employers generally have the legal right to adopt safety and health workplace rules for employees that are more stringent than the guidance per the Code of Virginia.

Contact Us

If you are a Virginia employee in need of employment law representation, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or through our contact page to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook and Twitter.

The preceding sponsored post was also published on FFXnow.com

The Kensington Reston Open House April 3

Join our open house on Sunday, April 3 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
By appointment only by RSVPing.

We invite you to join The Kensington Reston for a peek inside our community at our Hello Spring Open House!

Gather with us to celebrate the warmer weather and longer days of spring. Visit our community to experience the Kensington Difference for yourself. From the moment you step inside, you’ll feel an indescribable sense of family, belonging and home.

Stop by and meet our team of best-in-class professionals whose spirit of uncompromising commitment to excellence in care and service is brighter than ever. Learn about how our assisted living and memory care services are multi-faceted and highly personalized. We are a family of families that cherish the fact that every single day, we get to contribute care, attention and friendship to our residents.

To ensure your safety and the safety of our residents, our Hello Spring Open House is by appointment only. We are fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 and we are taking all the necessary precautions to keep our community safe. Our team is also available to meet virtually!

To RSVP, or for questions about joining our Kensington Family or our COVID-19 protocols, click here.

The preceding sponsored post was also published on FFXnow.com

If you’re a cat lover, there’s nothing better than arriving home after a busy day to have your cat greet you at the door with purrs.

You can help your feline companion to live a long and healthy life by taking them to a vet where your cat can experience some of the best care available.

Just Cats Clinic is the only feline exclusive veterinary practice directly serving the Reston community. What makes a cat only practice different from the rest?

The moment you walk in the door you can see that the whole practice is designed to make your cat comfortable by catering to their unique needs. Absent are the smells and loud sounds of dogs. A synthetic calming pheromone is used throughout the practice, and exam rooms feature hiding spaces and bird feeder views to help soothe stressed cats.

The staff and doctors are specially trained in cat friendly handling techniques approved by the American Association of Feline Practitioners, and they are continually updating their knowledge with the latest research in feline medicine and behavior.

The state-of-the-art facility offers preventive care, surgery, dental cleaning, boarding, and alternative therapies like acupuncture and laser treatments. For cats experiencing acute illness outside of normal business hours, Just Cats Clinic offers urgent care appointments in the evenings during the week and in the afternoon on weekends.

If you are ready to see what cat only care has to offer, request an appointment today!

The preceding sponsored post was also published on FFXnow.com

By Mina Fies, Soulful Living Guide & Founder, Synergy Design & Construction

Let’s face it… we all live busy lives and are often stretched way too thin — and yet it’s our homes that help us come back to ourselves at the end of every day. While it’s always been important to me that our home remodels go beyond gorgeous countertops and new flooring, it really is all about the creation of ‘home’ however that shows up for us.

Everyone deserves to feel good when they walk in the door everyday, which is why I created a dedicated way in which I could help others create personal, meaningful spaces that support them in day-to-day life (even when they’re not ready for a full remodel). Although I don’t have a magic potion for achieving a perfect equilibrium, I have realized finding time to renew and recharge, even if it’s just for a few minutes, is the single most important part of my day.

Imagine a space created just for you, to restore your energy, provide a sense of calm and restoration, and bring you back in alignment with your true nature.

As a Soulful Living Guide, I like to call this the “Zen Zone”.

Personally, I use my Zen Zone as a place to meditate and to be present to how grateful I am for the blessings in my life. I love to journal, so this is where I find time to write. Some of my clients use theirs as a place to read a few pages from a book, flip through a magazine or cool down after a long week.

Your Zen Zone can be anywhere you’d like. The key is feeling relaxed and calm when you’re there.

So, how do you create your own Zen Zone?

Identify Your Zone — Start to visualize your home and ask yourself where you feel your zone should be. Use your intuition to choose a spot that feels right. If you have an extra bedroom, that’s fine, but all you really need is a little nook, corner of a room, even a portion of a walk-in closet.

Prepare Your Zone — It’s time to shift the energy. Remove any nearby clutter from your new spot so the energy feels light and calming. Do a thorough clean of the area.

Zen Your Zone — Cozy it up! Add objects that activate your senses and give you a positive vibe! THIS finishing touch is what makes it such a powerful addition to your self-care routine.

Have fun with it, incorporating natural elements like plants and flowers, calming scented candles, music, or your seasonal journal.

Looking for design inspiration and more pointers to create your own Zen Zone?

Watch my free Zen Zone masterclass here. Our homes serve as access to our highest awareness and yet we rarely give them the attention they deserve. Learning to tap into a deeper understanding of how your home can support you and your evolution is the first step in shifting everything and creating your very own sacred space in time.

Are you ready to love your home again? Learn more at minafies.com.

The preceding sponsored post was also published on FFXnow.com

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By Melissa L. Watkins, Esq.

If you are a federal employee and believe you are regularly asked to perform duties that are outside the scope of your grade, job series and title, there is a path to address such an issue.

The procedure is referred to as a “desk audit” or a classification appeal. A desk audit is simply a procedure where the duties and position of a federal employee are evaluated to determine whether the employee’s position should be upgraded in terms of grade, pay level, title or classification series.

Prior to a Desk Audit — Ensuring Accuracy of Position Description

Before requesting a desk audit, the federal employee should make sure that their position description accurately identifies the major duties assigned and performed. If the position description is significantly inaccurate, the employee should try to resolve the problem first by discussing it with a supervisor and perhaps a representative of the human resources office.

If unable to resolve the problem at this level, the employee could potentially use the agency’s negotiated or administrative grievance procedure. If the agency is unwilling to correct the position description, the federal employee can still pursue a desk audit and the inaccuracies will be reviewed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) later in the appeal process.

Desk Audit Process for General Schedule (GS) Employees

Usually, the first step in pursuing a desk audit is to speak with the individual’s supervisor to discuss the issue of whether their position is properly classified. It is important to stress the major areas of daily work and how these duties fit into the overall agency’s structure.

The federal employee will want to review their position classification standards prior to this discussion. If a federal employee’s supervisor believes that the individual’s position should be possibly re-classified, they can contact the federal agency’s human resources office to request a desk audit. The federal employee can also try contacting human resources directly if the supervisor is not receptive to the request.

The agency must, in theory, make a decision on the desk audit request within 60 days. If an appeal to the agency does not result in a favorable decision, the employee can submit an appeal to the OPM Classification Appeals office. A GS employee can bypass the Agency and go to OPM directly from the beginning, but it’s a good idea to appeal to the agency first. That way, if the employee doesn’t get the desired result, the employee can still appeal to the OPM.

If the employee goes directly to the OPM and is unsuccessful, there is no option to then go back to the Agency, the employee will have exhausted the appeals process. A GS employee is not permitted to pursue appeals with both the Agency and OPM at the same time.

Desk Audit Process for Federal Wage System (FWS) Employees

The process for FWS employees is generally the same as that for GS employees, but an FWS employee must first appeal to the agency. Unlike a GS employee, an FWS employee cannot appeal directly to OPM from the outset. If an FWS employee is dissatisfied with the agency’s decision, the employee may appeal to OPM. The appeal with OPM must usually be filed within 15 calendar days of the date the employee receives the agency’s decision. Each appeal is different, but it is very important that an FWS employee keep track of their deadlines and file their appeal to OPM on time.

Desk Audit Appeal Process at OPM

In terms of filing an appeal with OPM, for both GS and FWS employees, each appeal must be in writing, should be sufficiently detailed, include a copy of the position description, and be filed with the OPM office serving the area in which the federal employee works.

In addition, OPM’s decision regarding a desk audit is final. If OPM rules in favor of the employee, then that decision is generally binding on the employee’s federal agency subject to a few exceptions.

If you are a federal employee in need of employment law representation, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or through our contact page to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook and Twitter.

The preceding sponsored post was also published on FFXnow.com

Join Our Open House Weekend: Saturday, March 12 and Sunday, March 13 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

By appointment only by RSVPing:

March 12 RSVP
March 13 RSVP

We invite you to our weekend open house! Featuring pretzels and brews from Lake Anne Brew House, come tour the community and meet our team!

The Kensington Reston is a place “where everybody knows your name.” Where there’s always a listening ear, a laugh to be shared, a smiling face looking back at you. Where friends become your family. The moment you step into our community, you’ll feel The Kensington Reston difference: an indescribable sense of warmth, belonging and home. Join us for our Open House and experience it for yourself!

Whether you need information, a compassionate ear, help with planning or immediate services, we are ready to offer whatever support you need. We are especially proud of our uniquely tailored memory care programs that are available the moment concerns arise.

If you or your loved one are currently experiencing memory loss, or if you simply have questions that need fast answers, then call us. We promise you undivided attention, expertise, privacy and the right level of support for as long as necessary.

Questions about joining The Kensington Reston Family, please email Alexandra Ramsey, Director of Community Relations, [email protected].

The preceding sponsored post was also published on FFXnow.com

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

There are usually two parts to a security clearance evaluation: (1) responding to the facts of the security concerns at issue; and (2) if the security concerns are valid, what mitigating factors should apply. In addition to the stated mitigating factors for each type of security concern, there is an overall evaluation of the individual. This is referred to as the Whole-Person Concept in security clearance cases. This review focuses on whether the individual, even if they have security concerns, is an acceptable security risk.

Under the Whole-Person Concept, a clearance adjudicator will evaluate an individual’s eligibility for a security clearance by considering the “totality” of his or her conduct and all relevant circumstances. There are nine factors that are reviewed based on the Adjudicative Guidelines found in Security Executive Agent Directive 4 (SEAD 4) (see page 6-7 of link).

These factors include:

  1. the nature, extent, and seriousness of the conduct
  2. the circumstances surrounding the conduct, to include knowledgeable participation
  3. the frequency and recency of the conduct
  4. the individual’s age and maturity at the time of the conduct
  5. the extent to which participation is voluntary
  6. the presence or absence of rehabilitation and other permanent behavioral changes
  7. the motivation for the conduct
  8. the potential for pressure, coercion, exploitation, or duress
  9. the likelihood of continuation or recurrence

Under the Adjudicative Guidelines, the final determination of whether to grant eligibility for a security clearance is “an overall commonsense judgment” based on both the merits of the security issues and a review of the Whole-Person Concept. While only nine factors are mentioned here, other factors are also considered.

We find that the Whole-Person Concept is often best used to describe the individual’s character, positive work history and record, community involvement and other factors that help to show that the individual’s record merits a commonsense judgment for keeping or retaining his or her security clearance. Many of these individualized issues fall under Factor 9.

For example, suppose an individual holds a Top-Secret security clearance and has been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol. The security issue is reported to the individual’s security officer. As a result, security concerns are raised and the individual’s security clearance is subject to review. In addition to addressing the issues involving the driving under the influence charge, the person would want to present evidence of good character (e.g., letters from supervisors, friends, and family), excellent performance at work, and/or community/charity involvement.

Generally, we find that clearance holders are not provided information about how to use the Whole-Person Concept to help them address security clearance concerns which may arise. Each case is different, but in many cases an individual may be a model employee, or someone who has contributed to their community or served in the military. These types of positive attributes can fall under the Whole-Person Concept and help to resolve a security clearance case favorably.

If you need assistance with a security clearance matter, please contact our office at (703) 668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook.

The preceding sponsored post was also published on FFXnow.com

Kitchen Remodel in Leesburg

By Nicola Caul Shelley, Synergy Design & Construction

We’ve all been there. We have an idea in mind about what we want in our home remodel, but the sheer number of decisions needed and the options available for everything from cabinets to appliances can quickly become overwhelming. Will that floor go with those cabinets? Will that light fixture compete with the other finishes? This month, we’re here to help with one decision point: countertop color! So, let’s dig into the various options and take a look at some examples of how countertop color brings a look together.

Photos courtesy Synergy Design & Construction.

Lightly Veined

This has been THE go-to choice for countertops in the last few years. No matter what countertop material is used, lightly veined countertops are versatile and add design detail without overwhelming the rest of the finishes. For some, they also make the perfect choice if there is a concern about every single little water splash or stain showing on the countertop surface, as veining helps to subtly camouflage specks that inevitably end up on countertops from day to day.

Kitchen Remodel in Vienna

The look of this kitchen remodel in Vienna is pure perfection! The lightly veined countertops complement, not compete with, the blue and white mosaic accent tile behind the range.

Kitchen Remodel in Fairfax

Lightly veined countertops are equally at home in contemporary remodels! This gorgeous waterfall island makes a statement in this kitchen remodel in Fairfax.

Kitchen Remodel in Reston

Our clients selected this lightly veined countertop for their blue and white kitchen remodel in Reston. Although a pure white countertop also looks stunning against blue cabinets, this countertop is perfect for pulling the blue, gray and white tones of the rest of the spaces together. 

Gray

What we love about gray countertops is their versatility. Gray goes well in contemporary spaces and can (which may surprise some) be used with dark cabinets.

Basement Remodel in Reston

Contemporary, but not cold! In this basement remodel in Reston, the gray countertop is right at home with the black cabinets. The look is kept light with the use of the lighter colored geometric backsplash tile and light wood floating shelves. Cheers!

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This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By Melissa L. Watkins, Esq.

Social media has a very long half-life, possibly longer than radioactive material.

As a federal employee, you are subject to certain limitations regarding your social media activity. There are five basic rules you should keep in mind as you engage with social media:

  1. Don’t: Use Personal Social Media During the Workday
  2. Don’t: Give the Impression You Are Posting in An Official Capacity
  3. Don’t: Share Non-public Information.
  4. Don’t: Violate the Hatch Act
  5. Don’t: Post Content that Could Raise a Security Concern

These rules will help you to avoid violations of the Federal Government Standards of Conduct and the Hatch Act.

The Federal Government Standards of Conduct do not prohibit federal employees from establishing and maintaining personal social media accounts. However, employees must ensure that their social media activities comply with the Standards and other applicable laws, including agency supplemental regulations and agency-specific policies.

When federal employees are on-duty, the Standards of Conduct require that they use official time in an honest effort to perform official duties, and that they use government property only to perform official duties, unless they are authorized to use government property for other purposes. Where agencies have established policies permitting limited personal use of government resources by their employees, those policies may authorize employees to access their personal social media accounts while on duty.

However, you should keep in mind that there is no right to privacy on work devices. If you do use your work device, whether desktop computer or mobile phone, to access personal accounts, understand that your activity may be monitored by the agency. The Standards of Conduct also prohibit employees from using their official titles, positions, or any authority associated with their public offices for private gain.

In addition to rules arising from the Federal Government Standards of Conduct, federal employees are also prohibited from engaging in certain activities on social media due to the Hatch Act. The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from sending messages through social media that advocate for a political party or candidate for partisan public office while on duty or in a federal building. Engaging in such activity may subject federal employees to disciplinary action.

There are three general prohibitions under the Hatch Act that apply to all federal employees:

  1. Employees may not engage in political activity while on duty or in the federal workplace.
  2. Employees may not knowingly solicit, accept, or receive a political contribution for a political party, candidate in a partisan race, or partisan political group at any time.
  3. Employees may not use their official authority or influence to affect the outcome of an election.

Beyond the rules established by the Federal Government Standards of Conduct and the Hatch Act, federal employees, contractors and applicants should also be mindful of the impact that social media can have on possessing or applying for a security clearance.

Federal agencies may also consider publicly available social media information in connection with an application for a security clearance. While the government has been quick to point out it has not yet created a good process for ‘checking’ social media in the background investigations process, the government has been clear that publicly available social media information may be a part of the government’s continuous evaluation process. It is advisable to change your privacy settings to “friends and family only” and to not accept new friend requests from people who you don’t know.

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Crime rates across the U.S. have steadily fallen over the past few decades. However, the murder rate rose 30 percent between 2019 and 202, the most significant single-year increase since the early 1900s (1905, to be precise), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This increase even exceeded the 20 percent rise in the murder rate from 2000 to 2001, including the deaths resulting from the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Discussions regarding appropriate law enforcement practices increased following this unexpected uptick. Over the years, several suggested police reforms have been proposed, ranging from the widespread use of body cameras to abolishing the police.

Debate On How To Reform Police

The yearly declines in murders and calls for increased vigilance in the wake of police killings prompted police reforms in past years. What was already a widely-debated topic and become even more controversial in the face of continuing community unrest and increasing crime rates.

Some are proponents of harsher policing measures to help curb what many fear will be a continuing problem (that is, they fear the murder rate will continue to rise), such as re-introducing stop-and-frisk policies. Others advocate for reforming current policing measures, such as bringing in use-of-force consultants and better de-escalation tactics. And yet more want to integrate expanded services that involve the police coordinating with community services, such as teaching officers how to respond to calls involving mentally ill or disabled individuals.

There is little agreement between political factions (and even within the parties) on the most appropriate reforms. Many are concerned about addressing persistent violence without violating individuals’ constitutional rights or further damaging the relationship between officers and the communities they protect.

Potential Causes For Violent Crime Increases

Similar to the murder rate, aggravated assault rose roughly 12 percent between 2019 and 2020. Violent crime increased approximately five percent during this same period, though rape and robbery (two specific subsets of violent crime) both decreased.

There is conjecture surrounding what caused the sudden upward trend in murder and other violent crimes. Two commonly-cited potential causes are the economic and social stress brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the strained relations between police and communities following events such as the murder of George Floyd.

However, preliminary data suggest that it may be possible to rule out responses to police killings as one reason for the increased murder rates. As reported by The Washington Post, which tracks police-involved fatal shootings, the number and circumstances of fatal shootings remain relatively consistent (roughly 1,000 per year). There was an increase from 2019 (999 shootings) to 2020 (1,021 shootings), but a decrease from 2020 to 2021 (962 shootings). 

Context For The Increased Murder Rate

Though this sharp rise is the largest single-year increase recorded since the early 1900s, the 2020 murder rate (7.8 homicides per 100,000 people) was still 22 percent lower than the 1991 murder rate (10 homicides per 100,000 people) and far below the murder rates of the 1970s and 1980s.

Additionally, the Pew Research Center reported that roughly 61 percent of U.S. adults described violent crime as a “very big problem.” Although, the murder rate for 2020 was 42 percent lower than the suicide rate (13.5 deaths per 100,000 people) and 71 percent lower than the rate of deaths related to drug overdoses (27.1 deaths per 100,000 people).

As discussions continue for what reforms are most appropriate for the future, it is important to keep historical context in mind. In this manner, individuals will be able to propose reforms and practices informed by the past but equipped to handle the present and future.

Unexpectedly losing a loved one is traumatic, and no amount of money could replace that pain. When the death occurs due to someone else’s negligence or irresponsible actions, the grief can feel even more severe. However, filing a wrongful death lawsuit can help lessen the financial burden and provide a sense of justice for the recovering family.

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Child custody disputes are not uncommon when the relationship between the parents has come to an end. When the matter cannot be settled amicably, parents may have to involve lawyers, a mediator, or even seek the court’s intervention on who the child(ren) will live with.

If you are paying the fees for a child custody hearing, especially without savings, your costs will most certainly increase the burden on an already stressful court case. The good news is that understanding what to expect in a child custody case can help you to minimize your costs.

The Average Cost of a Child Custody Case

“Most parents do not pursue child custody after a marriage has broken down because of the additional stress and high costs that come with it,” said family lawyer Nicole Bikakis of Dolan Divorce Lawyers, LLC. While child custody battles can be expensive, the cost may vary widely due to the many variables involved in a child custody case.

Under normal circumstances, the cost will range somewhere between $3,000 to $40,000 in total expenses. However, it can be far more expensive based on the case’s circumstances. Attorney’s fees account for a large portion of the overall total cost, but there are more factors that determine how expensive a case will be.

Here are some of the factors that greatly affect the cost of a child custody case.

Type of Custody Dispute

Much like divorce, there are two different types of child custody disputes: contested or uncontested.

Having a contested case typically means there is a challenge or dispute regarding how the child’s custody will be handled. For instance, if one party is determined to have sole custody and doesn’t cooperate or agree to anything, the case will proceed to trial in court. This often requires depositions, court time, and much more.

On the contrary, having an uncontested case means both parties agree on all the major issues. Since both parents already agree on most issues, an uncontested child custody case will cost a lot less to resolve than a contested case. In addition, an uncontested case gives the option to use mediation instead of a trial.

Although mediation is not free, it is the less expensive option. A mediator is often paid hourly and charges anywhere between $100 to $300 per hour.

Specialists and Expert Witnesses in The Custody Case

If the custody case is aggressively contested, the court may call a specialist or an expert, such as a psychologist or doctor, to give their opinion. However, these professional witnesses can be very expensive. Even if the dispute is amicable, the parties involved may still need to undergo a custody evaluation.

Custody evaluation, including tests, interviews and professional monitoring, also impacts the overall cost of a child custody case. It can cost anywhere between $1,500 to $6,000.

Miscellaneous Fees

Besides the cost of an attorney, the overall cost of a child custody case will also include some miscellaneous fees. An example of a miscellaneous fee is the payment for the sheriff or a third-party process server who represents the other party, which costs approximately $30. Other additional fees might include the fees associated with filing the required documents and papers with the court, which can cost as little as $1 or as much as $300.

Putting It All Together

Child custody cases can be emotionally and financially draining to parents. Since these cases usually get heated and can take time to resolve, you need a family lawyer in your corner to ease your burden while working through this complicated legal matter.

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