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Everything You Need To Know About Security Clearances

If you’re applying for a job with the United States government or military, you may be required to apply for security clearance as well. If you already hold security clearance, it must be renewed after a certain amount of time.

What is security clearance?

Security clearance determines a United States citizen’s trustworthiness and reliability as a government employee. It must be secured or renewed before you can hold certain federal positions, because it determines that you are willing and able to safeguard classified information that may be of importance to national security. There are three levels of security clearance: Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret.

What’s the difference between levels of security clearance?

According to the U.S. Department of State, the three levels of security clearance grow in their importance to national security:

  • Confidential: An individual with this level of security clearance can have access to information that could cause some damage to national security if told to the wrong person. Confidential clearance must be reinvestigated every fifteen years.
  • Secret: Information given to individuals with “Secret” clearance could cause serious damage to national security if disclosed without authorization. Secret clearance must be reinvestigated every ten years.
  • Top Secret: This is the highest level of security clearance. Information denoted as “Top Secret” could cause “exceptionally grave” damage to national security if leaked or given without permission. Top Secret clearance must be reinvestigated every five years.

How do I obtain security clearance?

Security clearance is not something you can apply for – only federal agencies can grant security clearances after a lengthy investigation process. During the hiring process for a job requiring security clearance, once an agency extends a job offer to an applicant, that applicant is then required to undergo a personnel security background investigation. If the applicant passes the background investigation, they receive their security clearance.

What is the process for a personnel security background investigation?

The background investigation is part of an extensive process that can be delayed due to improperly submitted forms or incomplete information. When you start the process to receive security clearance, you are usually required to fill out Standard Form 86, the Questionnaire for National Security Positions. After turning in your SF-86, your records and fingerprints are checked, and your application is assigned to a case manager. Your case manager will investigate key events and people from your past and present, such as your school performance, co-workers, and neighbors. The investigators will speak with people who know you well, like childhood friends or work supervisors, to verify that your information is correct and that your answers to the SF-86 are trustworthy.

What happens if my security clearance is denied?

Unfortunately, there isn’t much that you can do if your security clearance is denied or revoked. Many courts are reluctant to intercede when a decision has already been made about an individual’s readiness for security clearance. Previous court cases have determined that, while courts cannot interfere with security clearances, individuals have a right to due process under the 5th Amendment.

If your security clearance is denied or revoked, the agency’s standard process will be to send you a Statement of Reasons explaining their rationale for refusing you. This gives you an opportunity to respond to the allegations and appeal the decision. If you believe that your security clearance has been unfairly revoked or denied, you should have a licensed attorney assist you during the appeal process. During a security clearance review, you have a complicated, limited opportunity to make the strongest case possible for your security clearance, which is why you should have the best team possible to assist you.

At Patriots Law Group, we know that the security clearance process can be confusing and frustrating. The loss or revocation of security clearance could mean the end of a prospective job offer or a full career. If you’re getting ready to contest a security clearance denial, give us a call to see how we can help.

DISCLAIMER:  The information above is for general informational purposes only.  No attorney-client relationship is intended or created by this information.  Each individual situation is different and therefore a formal in-person consultation is necessary before any specific advice may be relied upon as appropriate and accurate for a given situation. Please call Patriots Law Group at 301-952-9000 to set up a consultation if you wish to obtain specific legal advice you may rely upon. We serve clients anywhere in the world, with in-person consultations available at our Suitland, MD office — right next to Andrews Air Force Base — for clients in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.