A background check and security clearance are required for anyone working in a government job that involves classified data or information. There are three levels of clearance: confidential, secret and top secret. The process of obtaining security clearance involves a thorough background investigation which probes into every aspect of the individual’s personal life. Requests for both confidential and secret clearance need personal information going back five years while top secret clearance needs personal information going back ten years. All security clearance requests utilize standard forms, such as SF-86. Members of the military completing the SF-86 can apply through the Dept. of Defense’s software program ESPQ. Members of the military found guilty of falsifying any information face stiff penalties. The investigators performing the background check will either be Defense Security Service employees or private contractors. All security clearances must be re-investigated every five years. Federal contractors are encouraged to contact our law firm for assistance with the security clearance process.
Who Requires a Security Clearance?
A security clearance is required for anyone wishing to access classified information. This is granted to individual who have completed the appropriate security background investigation, which involves reviewing the individual’s personal and professional history. This includes an in-depth analysis of the person’s character, trustworthiness, reliability and loyalty to the U.S. In addition to this, the individual must be free of conflicts of interest and potential opportunities for coercion. Finally, the individual must be committed to following the regulations for working with and protecting classified information.
Eligibility determination for security clearance is based on discretionary judgments by the appropriately trained adjudicative investigators. Security clearance eligibility is only granted when the investigative facts related to the individual clearly show that giving them access to classified information would protect the national security concerns of the U.S. Access to classified information is ended when an individual no longer has need for such access.
The Bureau of Human Resources determines if a State Department position requires a security clearance based on the specific work duties and responsibilities. Any position requiring access to classified information will be given an appropriate security classification. Individuals applying for these positions must successfully pass an in-depth security background investigation.
U.S. Security Clearance Background Investigation
The security background investigation begins after an individual has been given a conditional offer of employment. The paperwork process begins with the individual completing the appropriate security questionnaires, which includes Standard Form 86 (SF-86), or Questionnaire for National Security Positions. Job candidates are required to truthfully and thoroughly complete all forms and questionnaires.
If a military member requires security clearance because of a job or assignment, they must also complete the SF-86. However, the Dept. of Defense requires the SF-86 to be completed through a software program known as ESPQ, which is available for download for use on a home computer. Please note that this software is only available if the individual resides in the U.S. and paper SF-86 forms are no longer accepted. The security clearance questions can be viewed without having to install the software. See ESPQ SF-86 Questionnaire Worksheet (Word.doc file) and SF-86 (PDF File).
The security questionnaires for CONFIDENTIAL and SECRET clearances require information from the last five years. TOP SECRET clearance requires information from the last ten years. Please note that providing false information on a security document constitutes a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 101, and Article 107 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Under this code, violators may be fined and imprisoned for up to five years. Under the UCMJ, the maximum punishment includes pay and allowance forfeiture, reduction to the lowest grade, imprisonment for five years and a dishonorable discharge. Please note that page 10 of the SF-86 contains an authorization statement for the release of any personal information to the investigators. This means that the investigators can access any information about the individual, including sealed, juvenile, expunged and medical records.
Levels of Background Investigations
Once the SF-86 is submitted through the ESPQ to the Defense Security Service (DSS), the DSS will verify the information and perform the actual background investigation. The investigation level depends on the requested access level (confidential, secret and top secret). All investigative inquiries are performed by an investigator who works in the area where the information is located. However, NACs may be electronically performed from a centralized location.
For CONFIDENTIAL and SECRET clearances:
- A National Agency Check (NAC). This involves an online investigation of files and other records held by federal agencies, such as the FBI and Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
- A Local Agency Check (LAC). This involves a review of related criminal history records held by law enforcement agencies, such as local police departments, who had jurisdiction over the areas where the individual resided, worked and went to school.
- Financial checks. A review of the individuals’ Credit Record.
For TOP SECRET clearances:
A Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI). This is includes all of the above and the following:
- Field Interviews of References. This typically includes coworkers, employers, professors, friends, neighbors and other related individuals.
- Record Check. This involves checking records held by the courts, employers and rental offices.
- Subject Interview. This is an interview between the individual and the investigator.
Investigators and Interviews
The DSS uses two types of investigators to conduct inquiries and investigations: DSS Agents and Contractors. DSS Contractors include companies such as MSM Security Services Corp, Omniplex World Services Inc., Management Technology Corp (ManTech), Dyncorp and Government Business Services Group (GBSG).
Investigators conducting field interviews typically begin with the individuals listed as references in the security questionnaire. During their inquiries, the investigators will also build up additional reference names. All of these references will be asked detailed questions about the individuals’ honesty, reliability and trustworthiness. They will ultimately be asked whether they feel the individual being investigated should be given access to classified information or assigned to a sensitive position. References will also be asked probing questions about the security clearance applicant’s education, finances, employment history, family background and activities. During the investigation, the investigator will document if the individual has had any personal problems, such as encounters with the police or alcohol or drug involvement. The investigator will focus on obtaining both positive and negative background information so an adjudicator can make the appropriate determination.
The final step is the subject interview, where the goal is to obtain a complete understanding of the individual so an adjudicator can make a final decision. The ultimate objective is to determine whether the individual can successfully cope with having access to classified information without being a security risk. Therefore, the subject interview covers a wide array of questions and most aspects of the individual’s life. During the subject interview, the investigator(s) will ask questions about past experiences, family background, personal life, finances, foreign travel and other related matters. Once the investigator has completed their report, security clearance adjudicators will compare the results against detailed adjudicative guidelines and make the appropriate decision.
Interim Clearances and Reinvestigations
The majority of all security clearance applicants will be granted security clearance. However, negative findings or complicating factors may delay a decision or result in security clearance denial. For more information on appealing a denied or revoked security clearance, please visit: security clearance defense.
The Interim Security Clearance
The hiring office may request an interim security clearance under certain circumstances. The Office of Personnel Security and Suitability can grant a temporary security clearance within a few weeks after the individual has submitted their security clearance documentation. Security clearances are typically processed and decided in less than 90 days.
The Periodic Reinvestigation
Every five years security clearances are periodically reinvestigated. When it is time for a reinvestigation, the Office of Personnel Security and Suitability will notify the individual, who will submit a security documentation package. This will initiate another background investigation, which will review key aspects of the individual’s life, starting from the time of the previous background investigation.
We Are Prepared To Assist You!
Security clearances can affect employment in different professionals and organizations. Our law firm is prepare to assist with any matter involving security clearances. For example:
- For Federal contractor starting their initial security clearance investigation (or periodic reinvestigation), our law firm can help expedite the process and if there are any problems, present the best case for a favorable decision.
- For federal contractors employing cleared employees, our law firm can reduce employee turnover, talent acquisition costs and clearance approval time.
- For federal contractors wishing to obtain or maintain your company’s facility security clearance, our law firm can assist throughout the process.
Learn more about how we can assist you by calling or sending us an online message today.