Security FAQs


What is a security clearance?

A security clearance is a determination by the United States Government that a person or company is eligible for access to classified information. The term “eligibility for access” means the same thing as security clearance and appears in some Government record systems. There are two types of clearances: Personnel Security Clearances (PCLs) and Facility Security Clearances (FCLs).

What are the security clearance levels?

Security clearances can be issued by many United States Government agencies, including the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy (DoE), the Department of Justice, and the Central Intelligence Agency. DoD, which issues more than 80% of all clearances, and most other agencies have three levels of security clearances:

Top Secret

DoE primarily issues “L,” and “Q” Access Authorizations, which are roughly equivalent to Secret and Top Secret clearances, respectively.

What is an interim security clearance?

An interim clearance (also known as “interim eligibility”) is based on the completion of minimum investigative requirements and granted on a temporary basis, pending the completion of the full investigative requirements for the final clearance. Interim Secret clearances can be granted in a few days once the clearance granting authority receives a properly completed SF86. Interim Top Secret clearances take one or two months longer. Interim clearances can be “declined,” if unfavorable information is listed on the SF86. Interim clearances can be withdrawn at any time significant unfavorable information is developed during the investigation.

Getting a Clearance

Can I obtain a security clearance on my own?

No. You must be sponsored by a cleared contractor or a Government agency. To be sponsored you must be employed (or hired as a consultant) in a position that requires a clearance. As an exception, a candidate for employment may be submitted for a clearance if the employer has made an offer of employment and the candidate has accepted the offer. Both the offer and acceptance must be in writing. The offer of employment from a cleared contractor must indicate that employment will begin within 30 days of receiving the clearance.

Can a Naturalized Citizen get a Personnel Clearance?

Yes. The source of US citizenship does not make a difference for security clearance eligibility.

Can non-US citizens obtain security clearances?

No. Non-US citizens cannot obtain a security clearance; however, they may be granted a Limited Access Authorization (LAA). LAAs are grant in those rare circumstances where the non-US citizen possesses unique or unusual skill or expertise that is urgently needed to support a specific US Government requirement involving access to specified classified information (no higher than Secret), and a cleared or clearable US citizen is not readily available.

When may an individual be process for a personnel security clearance?

An individual may be processed for a personnel security clearance when employed by a cleared contractor in a job requiring access to classified information. As an exception, a candidate for employment may be processed for a personnel security clearance provided a written commitment for employment has been made by the contractor, and the candidate has accepted the offer in writing. The commitment for employment will indicate that employment shall commence within 30 days of the granting of eligibility for a PCL.

May an individual wha has been granted a security clearance be authorized access to any and all classified information?

No. The individual must have both the appropriate level of personnel security clearance and a need-to-know for the classified information.

Do contractors have the authority to grant, deny, or revoke personnel clearances for their employees?

No. This authority is reserved by the Government.

How long does a personnel security clearance remain in effect?

Generally speaking, a personnel security clearance remains in effect as long as the individual remains continuously employed by the cleared contractor and can reasonably be expected to require access to classified information. To preclude excessive clearances, the Facility Security Officer should continually review the number of employees with the personnel security clearances and reduce the number of clearances whenever possible.

Personnel Security Clearances

How will I be informed when I am granted a clearance?

Normally you will be contacted by your security office, receive a security briefing, and required to sign a “Classified Information Non-disclosure Agreement,” prior to be granted access to classified information.

For what reasons would I be denied a security clearance?

Various reasons exist for why someone may be denied a security clearance. The most important factors in an investigation are the individual's honesty, candor, and thoroughness in the completion of their security clearance forms. Every case is individually assessed, using the National Security Board's 13 Adjudicative Guidelines, to determine whether the granting or continuing of eligibility for a security clearance is clearly consistent with the interests of national security.

The adjudicative guidelines include: allegiance to the United States; foreign influence; foreign preference; sexual behavior; personal conduct; financial considerations; alcohol consumption; drug involvement; emotional, mental, and personality disorders; criminal conduct; security violations; outside activities; and misuse of information technology systems.

Suitability Security Clearances

DHS Suitability FAQs

What is the difference between a suitability determination and a security clearance?

Suitability refers to an individual’s identifiable character traits and conduct that is sufficient to decide whether the individual’s employment or continued employment would or would not protect the integrity or promote the efficiency of the service. Suitability is distinguishable from a person’s ability to fulfill the qualification requirements of a job, as measured by experience, education, knowledge, and skills.

A security clearance is a determination that allows an employee access to classified information or systems when the employee has a “need to know.” A security clearance may be granted based on an administrative determination that an individual is eligible for access to classified information or systems based on the favorable security adjudication of a background investigation. Although all employees must meet the suitability requirements for employment, not all employees require a security clearance.

Why are you going to investigate me? I'm only applying for an entry-level job and I don't need a security clearance.

Suitability is always a consideration for Federal employment. All individuals employed by the Federal Government shall be reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and have complete and unswerving loyalty to the United States. This means that each employee appointed to a position in any department or agency of the government is subject to an investigation.

How Long Does It Take to Conduct a Suitability Investigation?

The length of time between the submission of the employment application and completion of the background investigation varies depending on the position applied for and the time it takes to render a suitability decision based on the evidence in the investigation. Any inaccurate or incomplete information provided during the hiring process and background investigation may cause a delay in the final determination. It is important to provide, when asked, truthful and accurate information so that the investigator can complete the process as quickly as possible. The amount of personal information you are asked to provide depends on the level of risk and sensitivity of the position for which you are being considered.

Why would I receive an unfavorable suitability determination at the conclusion of my background investigation?

Some issues that may result in an unfavorable suitability determination include: financial irresponsibility; poor credit history; drug/alcohol abuse; arrest history; misconduct in prior employment; association with individuals involved in illegal activities such as drug use and drug trafficking; and demonstrated lack of honesty/integrity in providing complete and comprehensive information about current/past behavior which may be unfavorable.

What is the EPSQ (Electronic Personnel Security Questionnaire)?

The EPSQ was the only electronic security clearance application used within the DoD until July 2005, when it was gradually replaced by e-QIP.

What is e-QIP (Electronic Questionnaire for Investigations Processing)?

E-Q IP is an Office of Personnel Management (OPM) web-based computer program in which an applicant enters the same information as required on the “Questionnaire for National Security Positions” (Standard Form 86—SF86). E-QIP became available in July 2005 and slowly replaced the EPSQ. E-QIP now accounts for over 95% of all clearance applications.

What Is a Public Trust Position?

The public trust responsibilities of DoD positions require a much higher degree of integrity with unwavering public confidence in the individual occupying the position. These positions are designated as moderate or high risk. Public Trust positions include those involving policymaking, major program responsibility, and law enforcement duties, or other duties demanding a significant degree of public trust; and positions involving access to or operation or control of financial records, with a significant risk for causing damage or realizing personal gain. Positions involving a high degree of public trust generate a more thorough investigation than positions requiring only the finding that an applicant or employee has the requisite suitability of character to hold Federal employment. The public trust designation level indicating the type of background investigation required is used on the investigation forms (i.e., Standard Form, SF- 85, Questionnaire for Non-Sensitive Positions; SF- 85P, Questionnaire for Public Trust Positions; and other personnel forms such as SF-50, Notification of Personnel Action; SF-52, Request for Personnel Action; and OF-8, Optional Form.) The position sensitivity code and risk level is also recorded in the personnel systems.

What Background Areas Are Checked?

Investigations involve inquiries into an individual’s past to gather information to help determine whether he or she is suitable for Federal employment. Investigators may conduct checks into the following based on the level of investigation required: • Prior employment records • Financial records • Criminal records/investigations • Psychological issues • Foreign travel • Education records • Drug issues • Alcohol issues • References (personal and professional) • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) records

What Is the Difference Between Suitability, Security, and HSPD-12?

The objective of suitability and fitness is the examination of individual personal character and conduct. Suitability answers the question “Would the person’s employment in a covered position promote the efficiency and protect the integrity of the service?” Fitness answers the question “Does the person have the required level of character and conduct necessary to perform work for or on behalf of a Federal Agency?” The objective of security is a determination regarding whether employment would constitute a risk to national security. Influences such as foreign associates or ties are also considered in this determination. Security answers the question “Does the person have personal conduct or influences that could affect or potentially affect his or her trustworthiness?” The objective of HSPD-12 is a determination that the individual is not known or suspected to be a terrorist and answers the question “Does the person pose an unacceptable risk to life, safety or health to persons, assets or information?”

Note that all of these determinations are distinct from the assessment of an individual’s job qualifications.

How Is the Suitability Determination Made and What Guidelines Are Used?

Upon completion of the appropriate level background investigation, applicants and employees undergo suitability and security reviews. As defined in 5 CFR

731, civilian employees and applicants must undergo a suitability determination for Federal employment. Suitability determinations must be based on the presence or absence of one or more specific factors. The following criteria may be considered as a basis for finding an individual unsuitable for service and taking a suitability action:

• Misconduct or negligence in employment • Criminal or dishonest conduct
• Material, intentional false statement or deception for fraud in examination or appointment
• Refusal to furnish testimony as required by 5 CR 731, section 5.4
• Alcohol abuse without evidence of substantial rehabilitation, of a nature and duration which suggests that the applicant or appointee would be prevented from performing the duties of the position in question, or would constitute a direct threat to the property or safety of the applicant or appointee or of others
• Illegal use of narcotics, drugs, or other controlled substances, without evidence of substantial rehabilitation • Knowing and willful engagement in acts or activities designed to overthrow the U.S. Government by force • Any statutory or regulatory bar which prevents lawful employment of the person involved in the position in question SECTION 3 – SUITABILITY, SECURITY, & HSPD-12