How to Obtain a Security Clearance

If your job requires you to obtain a security clearance, you should prepare for a 3-step application process that involves U.S. citizenship verification and thorough background checks. In today’s blog, we will discuss who is eligible to obtain a security clearance and the steps for doing so in D.C.

What is a Security Clearance?

A security clearance is a formal determination made by a government or an organization to grant an individual access to classified information or restricted areas. Security clearances typically involve a thorough background investigation and are used to ensure that the individual in question is trustworthy and does not pose a risk to national security, public safety, or the interests of the organization.

Who Can Get a Security Clearance?

To obtain a security clearance, an individual must work for an employer that requires one – generally the federal government, military, or a government contractor. Security clearances are common in government agencies, military organizations, intelligence agencies, and companies that handle sensitive or classified information, such as defense contractors. An individual must be sponsored by their employer to even be eligible to petition for a security clearance. Applicants must be U.S. citizens to obtain a security clearance.

Note that individuals who once held a security clearance, such as military personnel or other cleared individuals, do not necessarily hold the security clearance status after they leave their post. A clearance is under the purview of the government at any time, which means the government may take away a clearance if they choose to do so. Generally, a clearance holds for a period of 2 years after leaving service, though if a person moves out of a cleared job and into another that requires one within that period, the clearance can be reinstated.

What Are the Levels of Security Clearances in the U.S.?

There are 3 levels of security clearance a person can be provided, based on their duties:

  • Confidential – involves material which, if improperly disclosed, could cause some measurable damage to national security; given to most military personnel and must be reinvestigated every 15 years.
  • Secret – unauthorized disclosure of this information could cause grave damage to national security and gets reinvestigated every 10 years.
  • Top Secret – allows access to information or material that could cause exceptionally grave damage to national security if released without authorization; must be reinvestigated every 5 years.

Steps to Obtaining a Security Clearance

After getting a job with an employer who sponsors your security clearance petition, you can proceed with the application process. Depending on the complexity of your background checks, the evaluation process could take up to 2 years to complete. However, the general steps are as follows:

  • Application phase – verification of U.S. citizenship, fingerprinting, and completion of the Personnel Security Questionnaire (SF-86)
  • Background checks – conducted by the Defense Security Service
  • Adjudication phase – findings from the investigation are reviewed and evaluated based on 13 factors determined by the Department of Defense, such as factors of criminal and personal conduct, substance abuse, and mental disorders.

Once the last step above is completed, clearance will either be granted or denied. If you have been denied clearance, you have the right to appeal the decision within 20 days of receiving the Statement of Reasons outlining why you have been denied a clearance. Read our previous blog about appeals to learn more about this process.

Questions? Contact The Law Firm of John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorneys at Law, PLLC.

If you are in the process of obtaining a security clearance or have questions about your eligibility, do not hesitate to consult an experienced attorney for legal assistance. While the application process seems straightforward, complexities may arise in the background investigation process. Whether you seek legal support during the application process or want to appeal a denied security clearance, The Law Firm of John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorneys at Law, PLLC can help.

Schedule a consultation with our firm to discuss your situation with a legal professional today.