What is a DoD security clearance? If you are considering a federal job, you’ll be required to consent to a basic background check including a review of your credit history and legal entanglements.
This basic check is to ensure those hired are suitable for federal service potentially working with controlled information (not necessarily classified).
Those who are hired and must work in sensitive areas, with sensitive information, or even classified technology are required to undergo a security clearance background investigation.
Traditionally that process can be time-consuming and require re-vetting an employee down the line. But changes (see the end of this article) in the way these clearance investigations are handled could streamline the entire process by the end of 2023.
Who Determines Clearance Eligibility
The Department of Defense Consolidated Adjudications Facility (CAF) is “the sole authority to determine security clearance eligibility” for “non-Intelligence agency DoD personnel” who work in sensitive jobs and must potentially require access to classified material.
Operated by the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, the CAF “customer base” includes all service members, civilian employees, and consultants.
A security clearance is traditionally awarded, after a background check, interviews, and other processes, on the basis that the applicant is suitable and willing to protect classified data and systems.
The government initiates the security clearance investigation and pays the cost of clearances for military personnel and civilian government employees. An applicant cannot initiate their own background investigation.
Who Gets A DoD Security Clearance
Anyone who must access classified areas, equipment, or data must have the appropriate clearance to do so. There are three basic clearance levels: Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret.
There are also programs that indicate an added layer of security required. In such cases there are Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) and Special Access Programs (SAP) indicators–an employee requires special SCI Access or SAP approval in addition to a security clearance.
Security Clearance Levels
What level of clearance do you need to perform a DoD job? That all depends on the nature of the work. The job description may specify a clearance level like Secret or Top Secret. The job you do itself may not require a clearance in all cases.
Consider the admin staff in any building that requires restricted access; sometimes simply being employed by a federal agency and being assigned to a classified location. A clearance may be required for simple access to the work space.
DoD security clearances are investigated in a similar fashion to those who need them for work as uniformed service members.
Who Conducts Security Clearance Background Investigations
The Department of Defense Consolidated Adjudications Facility (DoD CAF) at Fort Meade, Maryland is responsible for issuing clearances for “most DoD civilians, military personnel, and contractor personnel.”
There are other Department of Defense agencies that also issue clearances. These include the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Defense Intelligence Agency, but also the Department of Energy, Department of Labor, and many others.
The Clearance Process
If you apply for a DoD job that requires a clearance, historically you would be required to fill out paperwork to begin the background investigation process. The forms can be lengthy and require as much as ten years of personal history including past and current addresses, the names of former roommates, spouses, friends, etc.
Those seeking Top Secret clearances should expect to go back a full ten years, while the other clearances may require five years or more. As part of the background investigation process, you are asked to sign waivers and release forms authorizing the government to pull records on your behalf.
This will apply to sealed records, expunged records, juvenile records, etc. Your medical records are also subject to review.
Applicants are advised not to conceal or avoid revealing personal information. Lying or falsifying any part of your clearance paperwork is grounds for being denied a clearance which may cost some applicants their ability to work in a given job.
However, mistakes are sometimes made when filling out the forms and corrections may be required. In such cases it’s crucial to act as soon as possible–talk to the investigator who interviewed you, or your hiring manager or supervisor and let them know you need to correct the error.
Approval or Disapproval of Security Clearance
Every background check for a DoD security clearance requires guidelines to be applied to the individual case. These guidelines may, depending on the results of the investigation, allow clearance right away, or they may require further investigation.
An adjudicator may recommend further action, but the adjudicator is not the final authority on the approval or denial of a clearance. That has to happen at a higher level–branch chief or above. What might result in a denied clearance application?
- A dishonorable discharge
- Conviction of a crime that results in a sentence of a year or more in prison
- Using a controlled substance
- Mental incompetence
For those who are approved, security clearance holders have traditionally been subject to “periodic reinvestigation” every five years for a top secret clearance, 10 years for a secret clearance, and 15 years for a confidential clearance.
That said, random reinvestigations are possible at any time. A reinvestigation is also possible in cases where an employee’s ability to maintain the clearance may be in question.
But the era of reinvestigation may be over–those reinvestigation processes mentioned above may become obsolete thanks to something called Trusted Workforce.
The Future Of Security Clearances
There have been moves to upgrade the entire process of approving and reinvestigating security clearance candidates.
The Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) is working with other government entities, “to replace the periodic reinvestigation of federal employee and contractor security clearance holders with a continuous vetting process” which is part of something called the Trusted Workforce 2.0 framework.
DCSA assumed jurisdiction over the National Background Investigations Service platform from the Defense Information Systems Agency in October 2020, and there is a goal to update the entire clearance process into an updated information technology system by 2024.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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