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Frequently asked questions about security clearances and background investigations

How do I obtain a security clearance?
You cannot apply for a personnel security clearance on your own. You need to be employed in a position that requires a security clearance and be sponsored by a government agency. Your investigation can begin after you have been extended an offer of employment.
Will my investigator ask me questions that are not on my e-QIP security clearance application?
Most definitely. Your investigator will ask as many questions as needed to fully resolve any issues in your background. For example, if you had a drug related criminal charge twenty years you should expect to discuss your entire life's history of illegal drug usage. Additionally if you have completed a SF-85 your investigator is required to ask an additional thirty questions beyond the questions on the SF-85. These additional questions cover matters such as criminal activity, workplace conduct, illegal drug usage, finances, alcohol use, allegiance and misuse of computer systems.
What would prevent me from obtaining a security clearance?
Granting agencies are concerned with an applicant's judgment and character as well as an applicant's possible vulnerability to undue influence, duress, blackmail or coercion. With those consideration in mind, security clearances are adjudicated in accordance with 13 Adjudicative Guidelines; Allegiance to the USA, Foreign Influence, Foreign Preference, Sexual Behavior, Personal Conduct, Financial Considerations, Alcohol Consumption, Drug Involvement, Psychological Conditions, Criminal Conduct, Handling Protected Information, Outside Activities and Use of Information Technology Systems. In recent years most security clearance denials have been issued for financial issues and foreign connections, however many clearances are denied for each of the 13 Adjudicative Guidelines.
What is a Statement of Reasons?
A Statement of Reasons, included in a Letter of Intent or Letter of Instructions depending on your agency and employment status, is extremely bad news. This document package means that your security clearance has been denied. You do have the right to appeal, but typically only have 15 days. If you receive a Statement of Reasons you should immediately contact a security clearance consultant to aid in drafting your appeal.
Can I appeal the denial of an interim clearance?
No. An applicant has to wait until the adjudication of their final clearance before an appeal can be made.
Who will conduct my background investigation?
Well over 95% of all background investigations are conducted by U.S. Office of Personnel Management's National Background Investigations Bureau. If you will be in a position of law enforcement, agencies such as FBI, CBP and ICE conduct their own investigations. Additionally some agencies within the Intelligence Community and foreign affairs community conduct their own investigations, but everyone adheres to OPM standards.
How do Department of Homeland Security background investigations differ from OPM investigations?
Background investigations for law enforcement positions within Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are much more in depth than standard investigations. These investigations dig much deeper into criminal history, drug usage, foreign connections and personal finances.
How long will my investigation take?
Congress mandates that 90% of investigations should be completed and adjudicated within 60 days. An investigating agency will not close out a background investigation simply because of this time limit, however. Investigations will be not be closed until all issues are resolved, so complex investigations could take up to one year.
What can I do to obtain my clearance as quickly as possible?
Click HERE to see my advice on properly completing you e-QIP based SF-86. Accurate and complete information from you will help speed the process.
Who will my background investigator talk to?
The people contacted in your background investigation will greatly depend on your level of clearance. For your first Top Secret you should expect your investigator to contact co-workers, neighbors, schoolmates, social friends and ex-spouses covering at least the last seven years. Until 2014 only the applicant was contacted for Secret level clearances, however new standards mean that the investigator may meet with other people in your life if issues need to be investigated.
What are the levels of clearances?
National security information is classified as Top Secret, Secret and Confidential, with the bulk of classified information being at the Secret level. Many national security positions require Top Secret/SCI. This refers to Sensitive Compartmented Information at the Top Secret level. A TS/SCI clearance is needed for access to extremely sensitive information such as human intelligence and satellite programs. Additionally Department of Energy issues L and Q clearances, which are equivalent to Secret and Top Secret respectively.
What is an HSPD-12 clearance?
Implemented in 2004, Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 mandates that all federal employees and contractors who have access to federal facilities or federal computer networks be vetted and issued a Personal Identity Verification (PIV) card or a Common Access Card (CAC.) HSPD-12 investigations will not typically be sufficient to grant a person access to classified information. This investigation will, however, include fairly extensive record checks on matters such as criminal history, education, employment, military service and residences. Many people are denied their PIV cards each year and while denial appeals are allowed under the Code of Federal Regulations, appeal options are limited and are rarely successful.
Can a non-US citizen obtain a security clearance?
No, however under extremely rare circumstances a foreign national can obtain a Limited Access Authorization (LAA) that allows access to classified information under very restrictive terms.
How can I request of a copy of my background investigation?
The information gathered during the course of your background investigation belongs to you and can be obtained by filing a request under the Freedom of Information Act. Follow the links below to the instructions for your agency.
  • OPM
  • FBI
  • CBP
  • ICE
  • If your investigation was performed by another agency, please contact usand we can assist in obtaining a copy of your report of investigation.
For how long is a security clearance valid?
All levels of clearance are now valid for five years only. Previously a Confidential clearance was valid for 15 years, a Secret clearance was valid for 10 years and a Top Secret was valid for 5 years, but this changed in 2014. Also, if the clearance is not active for more than 2 years your clearance will expire at the end of that 2 years. Even though Congress has mandated government wide security clearance reciprocity, one can expect a new investigation when going from one agency to another.
Am I permitted to get advice from a security clearance consultant?
Of course, you are. Everyone involved in the process knows that applying for a clearance can be harrowing and confusing. No one is going to fault you for seeking advice regarding such an important part of your career.
Will my discussions with you remain confidential?
Absolutely. I will take the utmost care with your personal information and will destroy all of my notes immediately after you are satisfied with my advice. A strong confidentiality agreement is included as a part of my contract for services.
Can I get a refund if my security clearance is denied?
Yes. I stand behind my advice and knowledge of the process. If you engage my Full Package service prior to submitting your e-QIP and your clearance is denied I will fully refund your fees. No other security clearance consultant is willing to make this guarantee.