All About Security Clearances
THE SECURITY CLEARANCE
Eligibility for access to classified information, commonly known as a security clearance, is granted only to those for whom an appropriate personnel security background investigation has been completed. It must be determined that the individual’s personal and professional history indicates loyalty to the United States, strength of character, trustworthiness, honesty, reliability, discretion, and sound judgment, as well as freedom from conflicting allegiances and potential for coercion, and a willingness and ability to abide by regulations governing the use, handling, and protection of classified information. A determination of eligibility for access to such information is a discretionary security decision based on judgments by appropriately trained adjudicative personnel. Eligibility will be granted only where facts and circumstances indicate access to classified information is clearly consistent with the national security interests of the United States. Access to classified information will be terminated when an individual no longer has need for access.
The Bureau of Human Resources determines if a Department of State position requires a security clearance based on the duties and responsibilities of the position. If the position requires access to classified information, the position will be given an appropriate security classification. Individuals applying to these positions must undergo a personnel security background investigation.
THE BACKGROUND INVESTIGATION
The personnel security background investigation begins after an individual has been given a conditional offer of employment and has completed the appropriate security questionnaire, usually a Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, and other required forms. It is required that job candidates complete the questionnaire and other required forms thoroughly, honestly, and with candor.
Human Resources will submit the completed security questionnaire and other required forms, also known as the security package, to DS's Office of Personnel Security and Suitability.
Once the security package is received by the Office of Personnel Security and Suitability, it will be reviewed for completeness, and the information will be formally entered into a case management system. National agency record checks and scanned fingerprint checks are then conducted. A case manager will direct the background investigation to cover key events and contacts from the individual’s past and present history.
A critical step in the background investigation is the face-to-face interview the individual will have with a DS investigator. This interview usually occurs within a few weeks of an individual submitting a complete security clearance package.
DS investigators are located in the United States and overseas. These investigators verify the information an individual has supplied in his or her security package, such as where he or she has lived, gone to school, and worked. Investigators talk to current and former neighbors, supervisors, co-workers, classmates, as well as to the references an individual provided. Investigators also contact law enforcement agencies in each of the places an individual has lived, worked, or attended school.
Once the investigators have completed a report, highly trained security clearance adjudicators will weigh the results against existing adjudicative guidelines for security clearances.
Most individuals will be granted a security clearance, although complicating factors or derogatory findings may delay a decision or result in a denial of a security clearance.
Learn more about the security clearance process by reviewing our FAQs on security clearances.
THE INTERIM SECURITY CLEARANCE
In exceptional circumstances, the hiring office may request an interim security clearance. The Office of Personnel Security and Suitability may be able to grant an interim security clearance within a few weeks after the individuals has submitted a complete security package. Final clearances usually are processed and adjudicated in less than 90 days.
THE PERIODIC REINVESTIGATION
Security clearances are subject to periodic reinvestigation every 5 years. The Office of Personnel Security and Suitability notifies the individual when it is time for their reinvestigation. The individual will submit an updated security package and another background investigation will be conducted. The investigation will again cover key aspects of the individual’s life, but will start from one’s previous background investigation.