Adjudication of Security Clearances The clearance procedure for secret level access employs a five-year investigation known as the "National Agency Check with Law and Credit," whereas the clearance process for top secret employs a ten-year Single Scope Background Investigation. All other classifications range from a minimum of three years for ministerial/clerical up to a maximum of 12 months for temporary appointments or special projects.
In all cases, before an applicant can be considered for access to classified information, his or her background must be evaluated by a person or persons who determine whether that person is appropriate for such access. This assessment may include a review of documents submitted by the applicant, interviews with third parties, and/or research into the applicant's history. The clearances themselves are not criminal investigations and therefore do not require prosecutors to file charges. Rather, they are administrative proceedings designed to ensure that only those people who should have access to classified information are granted access.
The National Agency Check with Law and Credit is conducted by each agency that might consider granting security clearance. Agencies conducting their own investigations into an applicant's background include the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, and various other agencies within the federal government. Other agencies provide information on applicants directly to the relevant investigative division within these departments or divisions. For example, the CIA provides information on prospective employees to the FBI.
All candidates will be subjected to credit and criminal background checks. The background investigation for a Top Secret security clearance involves further record checks that can validate citizenship for the candidate and family members, as well as verification of birth, education, job history, and military history.
The content of your background check will vary depending on what level of access you seek. For example, if you are applying for a position with access to classified information, the background check will include questions about any derogatory information found in government records, such as arrests or convictions. In addition, certain categories of people are generally excluded from receiving a security clearance: current U.S. citizens; aliens who have not been legal residents for at least three years; and, those who cannot prove they are eligible to work in the United States.
Those who fail the background check will not be granted a security clearance. However, even if your background check comes back clear, that does not guarantee you will get the job. A number of factors other than your background check result may affect whether you are selected for the position. These may include quality of your interview, ability to perform the duties of the job, and subjective assessments by personnel officers.
People take pride in their credentials and often resent having them used against them. If you have had a criminal record, it will likely show up on your background check report.
Once issued, security clearances normally last five to fifteen years, depending on the severity of the classified data. Some military employees with a "Top Secret" security clearance, for example, must go through the background check procedure every five years. Other types of employees may have their backgrounds checked more frequently, based on how important it is for national security that they not be compromised.
When you apply for a security clearance, you will be asked to submit a personal history questionnaire (PHQ). The questionnaire seeks information about your past employment, criminal records, credit reports, drug tests results, and other matters relevant to determining whether you are eligible for access to classified information.
Your employer will conduct the investigation into your suitability for access to classified information. If your employer determines that you cannot be granted access to classified information, they will explain this decision in writing. Your employer is required by law to notify the Department of Defense (DOD) of any disqualifying factors or reasons they cannot grant you access to classified information.
If you are denied access to classified information, you have the right to an appeal. Your employer will conduct another investigation into your eligibility for access to classified information. If your employer again determines that you cannot be granted access to classified information, they will write a new denial letter explaining their decision this time. You have the right to appeal this second denial as well.