PHILADELPHIA -- In 19 years of using his security clearance to sweep floors at a plant owned by defense contractor Lockheed Martin, janitor Michael Lynch has done nothing to arouse suspicion.
Co-workers and bosses speak glowingly of Lynch, a brain-tumor survivor who's active in his church, building homes for poor people in Maine and West Virginia.
But because he and his family have struggled financially, the government now sees him as a threat to national security. Defense Department officials believe the janitor may be tempted to sell government secrets to get out of debt.
Last month, they asked a judge to revoke Lynch's security clearance.
Lynch, who considers himself a patriotic American, is fighting back. His lawyer calls the government's actions "outrageous" and asked Administrative Judge James A. Young to allow Lynch to keep his clearance. A decision is expected by Labor Day.
Although Lockheed has promised Lynch a job even if he loses the clearance, "It's a matter of pride for him," said his attorney, James Katz. "The notion that this individual would pose a security threat is just extraordinary to me."
The Defense Department didn't respond to a request for comment.
"Mr. Lynch has been here for many years. He's been a dedicated employee and that's something we recognize," Lockheed spokesman Ken Ross said.
Lynch's troubles began shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, when an official reviewing Lynch's security clearance began raising questions about a 1993 bankruptcy, an unpaid tax bill and some discrepancies on paperwork that Lynch filled out in 1999.
By January of this year, the department had concluded that Lynch, who makes $16.85 an hour sweeping floors at Lockheed's plant in Moorestown, N.J., was a threat and moved to revoke his clearance.
Defense Department policy states that "an individual who is financially overextended is at risk of having to engage in illegal acts to generate funds." The policy says that a history of financial trouble and an "inability or unwillingness to satisfy debts" are among factors that could raise security concerns.
But the 1992 directive also says that officials should take into consideration whether the financial trouble was recent, or caused by a hardship beyond the applicant's control, when deciding to either grant or revoke clearance.
Lynch, a former cabinet maker, was out of work for three years after surgery in 1981 to remove a brain tumor. When he was well enough, he got a job at the radar and missile guidance systems plant, then owned by RCA but later acquired by Lockheed Martin.
The Lynches ran into severe financial problems in the early 1990s after his wife, Kay, stopped working to help their blind daughter, Christy, with her studies. The family couldn't make ends meet on Michael Lynch's wages and declared bankruptcy.
Kay Lynch eventually went back to work, but quit again after Christy was accepted to Temple University's music program. Again finding themselves short of money, the Lynches decided to pay their daughter's tuition instead of city wage taxes, which Lockheed did not deduct from Michael Lynch's paycheck.
Katz acknowledged the decision was a bad one. But he said the family has since paid $7,000 toward their tax bill - most of what they owe. "Ironically, he's in better financial shape than he's ever been," Katz said.
The government also accuses Lynch of lying on his security clearance application. When Lynch updated the application in 1999, he erroneously said he hadn't filed for bankruptcy in the past seven years and hadn't had a debt older than 180 days.
Katz said Lynch simply made a mistake. A letter from Lynch's neurologist says that because of his physical condition, he has trouble with dates.
Lynch, 50, who lives in a Philadelphia row house with his wife and two daughters, declined to comment.
Jeff Fogel, legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, said Tuesday that Lynch has been treated poorly.
"The government is certainly overdoing it. They are leaping to conclusions that are just not there," Fogel said. "You've got bureaucrats taking the approach that (it's better to be) wrong in this area than allowing someone who is a potential security threat."
At a hearing last month, Lynch's supervisor, James Numbers, testified that Lynch was an honest and conscientious employee. And co-worker Diane Carr told the judge she'd "trust Mike with my life," according to a newspaper account of the hearing.