What is an interim security clearance? If you have applied for a federal job or are a military member in need of a security clearance as part of your official duties, you’ll be asked to submit to a background investigation before you can be trusted to handle classified information, equipment, have access to certain restricted areas, etc.
No matter if you are up for a Confidential, Secret, or Top Secret clearance, the background investigation process can take time to complete–what are your employers or chain of command to do with you in the meantime?
That is where the interim security clearance comes in. This is a level of trust awarded on a tentative basis on the strength of certain record reviews and other processes.
The Interim Clearance Process
It’s not up to your employers or command support staff to simply acknowledge their trust in you; an interim clearance is a process that includes a formal approval or denial of the interim clearance.
The Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency official site advises that more people are affected by the requirements for interim clearances than you might expect.
In addition to military members and federal hires, there are also defense contractors who need to be cleared. “All applicants for a personnel security clearance submitted by a cleared contractor will be routinely considered for an interim eligibility.”
As you can see, the interim clearance process is fairly routine. There is an entire office dedicated to this process–as mentioned above, the interim clearance process is a formal one and not left to the jurisdiction of an individual unit or command.
Interim clearances are issued by the Vetting Risk Operations Center (VROC). This center issues interim clearances, “…only where facts and circumstances indicate access to classified information is clearly consistent with the national security interest of the United States.”
There are three things to remember about this process:
- Interim clearance eligibility is done in conjunction with the start of the background investigation process.
- This clearance, when awarded, is typically in effect until an investigation is completed.
- At the end of the investigation a final security clearance determination is made to approve or deny.
What Affects Your Interim Security Clearance
In interim clearance procedures, there are some restrictions depending on the level of clearance sought: Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret.
You may be awarded an interim security clearance for Secret and Top Secret work ONLY after the following is accomplished:
- “Favorable review” of the data submitted via Standard Form 86
- Favorable fingerprint check
- Proof of U.S. citizenship
- Favorable review of any applicable “local records”
Interim Clearance Issues
Your interim clearance may happen very quickly in the case of “lower” clearances, but Top Secret interim clearances may take longer to accomplish. Don’t assume negative outcomes in this area just because the process takes longer than you expect.
Many people have a fear of these processes, and rightfully so in the abstract–after all, these are subjective decisions being made and sometimes how things look on the surface is enough to slow down a background check until the reality of a specific circumstance can be determined.
But this process takes time–you may experience worry or anxiety about how long your own interim clearance is taking, especially if you were hired with others who got their own interim clearances far more quickly. Don’t assume the worst, there are a variety of “moving parts” that inform this entire process. Your experience will DEFINITELY vary.
Sometimes a clearance is withdrawn after an interim clearance has been approved. In such cases there are notifications made electronically to the command or agency for further action.
In some cases, there may be a ruling of “No Determination Made”, which is a typical response in cases where there has been non-compliance with background investigators requests for follow-up information.
In such cases of “No Determination Made”, there is no interim clearance granted and no access should be granted until a determination can actually be made.
Another issue, there are separate processes for Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) and there may be instances where someone cleared for SCI as well as holding a Top Secret clearance may be denied SCI access or have it revoked–but the individual still maintains a Top Secret Clearance. In such cases, the “collateral access” is not revoked unless there is a specific order to do so.
A Caveat About Getting An Interim Security Clearance
One thing to keep in mind about this process: a certain percentage of job applicants or PCSing troops (or reassigned troops in need of a clearance for the new duties) will be denied an interim clearance.
Some sources report the “denial rate” for interim clearances can be as high as 30%, while the denial rate for final security clearances can run as low as ONE percent. If you are denied an interim clearance, this may be due to a variety of factors and does not necessarily indicate where your background investigation is going to lead.
Some sources report that issues that contribute to the higher denial rate for interim clearances are issues that come up during the investigation and are later understood to be a non-problem in terms of security clearance approval.
But the initial “roadblock”? What about an issue such as prior substance abuse issues, credit problems, or other things that wind up not acting as a barrier to the clearance pending further development? How can you be denied an interim clearance but later get awarded a permanent one?
The interim clearance may be denied on the basis of not having the answers to the questions such issues raise–at first. It may be fully justifiable to deny the interim clearance and approve the final security clearance based on the additional “development” of the facts in such issues. But until those facts are known or better understood, your interim clearance may not happen.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News