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What is a security clearance?

Security clearance is basically a license issued by an agency, the head of a department, or a branch of the federal government. Federal employees and most employees operating in the private sector are required to obtain security clearance. These employees require clearance because their position grants them access to classified information and documents. Any employee working in an organization that is developing, receiving, or sending information that the federal government considers significant to National Security will require a level of security clearance. Currently, there are three levels of security clearance. The amount of time required to obtain any level of security clearance can vary; however, it usually takes between six months to one year.

Security Clearance Levels
Level I is known as Confidential. This level often refers to clearance of materials and documents. If these materials and documents are not properly concealed, they may cause considerable damage to national security. For the most part, all military personnel are granted this entry level of clearance.

Level II is commonly referred to as Secret. The Secret level of clearance pertains to information and the disclosure of information. This level is considerably more important because any release of this type of information can cause severe damage to national security.

Level III is the highest level of clearance and it is known as Top Secret. Employees at this level have access to materials, documents, and information that if released can cause unusually severe damage to national security.

It is important to note that the Level I security clearance is the easiest to obtain. However, all security clearance levels will include an extensive background check. The only requirement for obtaining higher security clearance is enduring a more extensive background check. In addition, Secret and Top Secret clearance levels will almost certainly have some type of military involvement in the clearance process.

How to get a security clearance
In order to obtain security clearance, an applicant must complete three main parts.
The first part is the initial application process. This part includes verifying U.S. citizenship, undergoing detailed fingerprinting, and the completion of the Personnel Security Questionnaire.

The second part of the process includes an in-depth investigation of the applicant’s background. In most cases, the background check is conducted by the Defense Security Service.

The third and final part of the process is adjudication. After the results from the extensive investigation are reviewed, the information is evaluated using thirteen different factors. Examples of the evaluating factors include; allegiance to the United States, prior personal conduct, and family history. After the evaluation process, clearance is either granted or denied. These steps are how to get a security clearance at any level; however, there are still other requirements.

Security Clearance Requirements
It is important to add that an individual is not allowed to apply for security clearance. The application for clearance must be submitted by a cleared contractor or recognized government organization. One of the first security clearance requirements is the applicant must be either a current employee of the cleared contractor, or must have received and accepted an offer of employment.

In order to obtain clearance, the contractor must have a Facility Security Officer (or FSO) begin the application process. Firstly, the Facility Security Officer must submit an investigation request through the Joint Personnel Adjudication System. Next, the FSO requires the applicant to complete a clearance application in the Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (or e-QIP) system. Following review and approval, the FSO then submits the completed e-QIP to the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (or DISCO) for approval. After DISCO reviews this information, it is submitted to the Office of Personnel Management (or OPM). This is where the actual investigation occurs. The OPM reviews the information and sends the results back to DISCO. This is when DISCO either grants clearance, or submits the results to the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals for additional action.

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Find Your School is an advertising-supported site. Featured programs and school search results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other information published on this site.