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Security Clearance FAQ



What is a security clearance?
Certain federal employees and certain employees in the private sector are required to have security clearances because their job requires them to have access to classified documents. Various other work takes place in secured facilities. The occupant of any such job is said to hold a "sensitive" position, defined as "any position, by virtue of its nature, could bring about a material adverse effect on national security". At any given time, there are about 3 million people with security clearances. In addition, there are about 1.5 million security clearances in the hands of private contracting or consulting firms. Contractors participate in what is called the industrial security program administered by the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO) which is part of the Joint Information Systems Technology (JIST), a military agency.

Who needs a security clearance?
Any person who has worked or will work for an organization that requires access to restricted information more than likely has or will need a security clearance.

How do you get a security clearance?
There are three main phases to receiving a security clearance:
  1. The first phase is the application process. This involves verification of U.S. citizenship, fingerprinting and completion of the Personnel Security Questionnaire (SF-86). For detailed application procedures, see Security Clearance Requirements.
  2. The second phase involves the actual investigation of your background. Most of the background check is conducted by the Defense Security Service (DSS).
  3. The final phase is the adjudication phase. The results from the investigative phase are reviewed. The information that has been gathered is evaluated based on thirteen factors determined by the Department of Defense (DoD). Some examples of areas they consider are; allegiance to the United States, criminal and personal conduct, and substance abuse or mental disorders. Clearance is granted or denied following this evaluation process.
How long are Security Clearances valid?
A Periodic Reinvestigation (PR) is required every 5 years for a TOP SECRET Clearance, 10 years for a SECRET Clearance, or 15 years for a CONFIDENTIAL Clearance. However, civilian and military personnel of DOD can be randomly reinvestigated before they are due for a PR.

A security clearance is a valuable commodity outside of the military. This is because civilian companies who do classified work for the Dept. of Defense (DoD), or a national security related contract, must bear the cost of security clearances for their employees, and clearance investigations can cost several thousands of dollars. Because of this, many DoD contractors give hiring preference to ex-military personnel with current clearances. However, you want to do your job-hunting right away, after separation. Once your clearance expires, you cannot simply request that DoD issue a new one, or conduct a Periodic Reinvestigation, simply to make your job-hunting prospects easier. To be issued a clearance, or to renew your clearance by DoD, your present duties/assignment, or pending duties/assignment must require such access.