The process for obtaining a Security Clearance depends in part on the agency that is providing the clearance. The vast majority of security clearances are obtained through the US Department of Defense (DoD). The DoD process has three (3) phases:

  1. Application Phase: An applicant must go through the application phase, which involves verification of US citizenship, fingerprinting and completion of the Personnel Security Questionnaire (SF-86).
  2. Background Check Phase: The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) or The Defense Security Service (DSS) conducts a thorough background check. Investigators may interview the applicant and may require the applicant to undergo a polygraph test.
  3. Adjudication Phase: Findings from the DSS investigation are reviewed and evaluated by the agency granting the clearance. However, the vast majority of security clearances, approximately 80%, are obtained through the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). Adjudicators use the Adjudication Guidelines which uses thirteen (13) criteria. These factors include loyalty to the United States, financial responsibility, criminal conduct, substance abuse and mental disorders. Most federal agencies mirror the same criterion as DoD. In cases that contain derogatory information, the adjudicator may draft a request for additional investigation or additional information. The adjudication phase is completed when the clearance is either granted or denied. An applicant will receive a Statement of Reason if he or she is denied his or her security clearance.

There is no definitive answer to how long a Security Clearance application will take because of the number of variables. Depending on circumstances, it can take between three (3) months to two (2) years to obtain a security clearance.

When a person is applying for a job requiring a security clearance, the applicant will be required to complete the following:

  • Complete an application and number of forms.
  • Supply a great deal of personal information in these forms.
  • Supply supplemental information in responses to “interrogatories.”
  • Agree to be fingerprinted.
  • Agree to a very thorough investigation of his or her past and present life.
  • Undergo one or more interviews in which very personal questions are asked.
  • Perhaps undergo a polygraph (lie detector) test.
  • Agree to interviews of many of your present and former employers, your present and former acquaintances, and present and former neighbors.
  • Appeals can only be taken by an applicant in private sector cases.
  • Once a DOHA Administrative Judge makes a decision, either side (applicant or the government attorney) can appeal within fifteen (15) days of receipt of the initial determination by the Administrative Judge.
  • An appeal will be handled by the Appeal Board. The Appeal Board consists of three DOHA administrative judges.
  • The appeal will be based solely on the written record from the hearing before the Administrative Judge. There is no oral argument or personal appearance before the Appeal Board.
  • Once a decision is made by the Appeal Board, there can be no further appeal.
  • An initial determination revoking an applicant’s clearance remains in effect while the appeal is heard.
  • Once an Administrative Judge makes a decision regarding an applicant’s Security Clearance, either the applicant or their attorney can request a Security Clearance appeal to reverse the Administrative Judge’s ruling.
  • The Security Clearance appeals process is far more strict and unforgiving than other types of legal procedures and the government has much more power during Security Clearance appeals than during other criminal and civil appeals.
  • During the appeals process, the Appeals Board will evaluate the original hearing to ensure that the judge adhered to Executive Order procedures. If the security clearance appeals board finds the judge’s decisions arbitrary, contrary to the law, or capricious, the board may reverse the judge’s original order.
  • If you would like to appeal a Security Clearance denial, you should consult with an attorney experienced in these specific issues. Security Clearance matters are complicated and take a certain knowledge and skill level.


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