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
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
How do you get a security clearance?
There are three main phases to receiving a security clearance:
How long are Security Clearances valid?
- 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
- The second phase involves the actual investigation of
your background. Most of the background check is conducted by the
Defense Security Service (DSS).
- 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.
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