A Security Clearance is a US government authorization issued by the head of a department, division or agency of the US federal government. This government authorization allows the holder of the clearance to view classified information when the holder’s job requires him or her to review classified information as part of his or her duties. The United States government wants to protect its national secrets. Therefore in the interest of national security, the US government wants any persons who have access to classified information to be reliable, trustworthy, of good character and loyal to the United States.

When a federal employee and government contractor apply for a Security Clearance, the applicant is required to undergo a comprehensive background investigation into all aspects of his or her personal and professional history. The investigation includes interviewing the applicant, checking state and federal criminal databases, and interviewing past and present employers, schoolmates, co-workers and other individuals. An applicant’s full cooperation with all aspects of the investigation is a requirement in order for him or her to obtain a security clearance.

There are three (3) basic levels of security classification.


  • This is the most common Security Clearance.
  • Whereas other classifications will almost always involve a background check by the Defense Investigative Service (DIS), a confidential classification clearance program may be operated by the agencies themselves, like the Department of Energy (DoE), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of State (DoS), etc.
  • The holder of this clearance receives access to material which, if unauthorized disclosure occurs, could be expected to cause “ some damage” to national security.
  • The vast majority of military personal are given this basic level of Clearance.
  • A Confidential Security Clearance must be reinvestigated every 15 years.


  • The holder of this Clearance receives access to material which, if unauthorized disclosed occurs could be expected to cause “grave damage to national security.”
  • A Secret Security Clearance must be reinvestigated every 10 years.


  • The holder of this Clearance receives access to material which, if unauthorized disclosure occurs, could be expected to do “exceptionally grave damage” to national security.
  • A Top Secret Security Clearance must be reinvestigated every five (5) years.
  • One of the differences between Secret and Top Secret is how “expansive” the background-check is done.
  • The holder undergoes a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI). This background investigation process is extremely intensive.
  • A Top Secret Clearance holder can have a supplemental designation known as Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI). This give the holder access to very sensitive compartmentalized information.

Generally the length of time a clearance remains valid depends on the type of clearance.

NO, it is a common misconception that a person can go to work for a private company or government agency and apply for their own Security Clearance. It is the applicant’s current or prospective employer (private company or government agency) who sponsors the application process to obtain the Security Clearance, which can be costly and
time consuming.

Certain federal employees and certain employees in the private sector, such as defense contractors, are required to have Security Clearances because their job requires them to have access to classified information and documents.

Work that takes place in secured facilities may require the person accessing the secured facility or working in such a secured facility to obtain a clearance. (A person filling a job that requires working in a secured facility is said to hold a “sensitive” position. A “sensitive” position is defined as “any position, by virtue of its nature, could bring about a material
adverse effect on national security.”)

In applying for a Security Clearance, the primary application form to be completed is the SF-86 also know as Standard Form 86 or SF-86 Security Clearance Questionnaire.

Sometimes it is simply not clear which facts are relevant and which facts require interpretation of the question being asked. Many people are not able to judge on their own how to respond to all the questions being asked in the SF-86 Questionnaire and this is why it helps to have an experienced, knowledgeable attorney overseeing the process. An attorney from the Veterans Legal Center will guide you through the process and will make sure everything is done properly.

The OPM’s system for completing the SF-86 application online is called e-QIP (Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing).

The system can only be accessed by someone who has been invited to do so by an appropriate official at a sponsoring agency. This means a person cannot “pre-apply” for a security clearance, and someone who already has a Security Clearance cannot update or change his or her SF-86 unless granted access by an appropriate agency. Once the Security Clearance application is completed, it is submitted to the Defense Security Service (DSS) or the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for determination.

The importance of accurately preparing a Security Clearance application cannot be overemphasized because what happens during this stage will directly affect whether or not an applicant is approved to receive a Security Clearance.

Attorneys at the Veterans Legal Center offer in depth assistance in helping you prepare Security Clearance applications. Attorneys at the Veterans Legal Center can counsel you on the proper responses to questions on the national Security Clearance questionnaire such as what events need to be reported and the consequences for not reporting certain events.


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