What is the Process?
Obtaining a security clearance - at any level - is a privilege, not a right. The interests of national security require that anyone privileged to be employed by the government must be reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and of complete loyalty to the United States. This means that the appointment of each civilian employee in any department or agency of the government is typically subject to some type of investigation.
Getting a clearance can be an involved process, depending on the type of clearance you are seeking. Your employer or prospective employer must first determine that your position is one requiring access to classified information, assignment to sensitive duties or work in a position of public trust. Once that has been identified you will then complete security forms (SF85P, SF86) or Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (e-Quip) and other supporting documents. Your signature on these documents will allow the agency to check your history, including employment, credit and financial history, military background, police record, medical records and other areas of your life.
The security office will generally submit your forms or e-QIP to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) which will conduct the investigation. The scope of the investigation will vary, depending on the nature of the position. The investigation may include interviews with co-workers, family, friends and other acquaintances; a review of your medical, credit and financial history; a criminal records check; and questioning regarding illegal drug usage, contact with foreign nationals and other topics.
Adjudicators, who render clearance decisions, review the completed investigations. They look at the "whole person" depicted in the report of the investigation. They consider all the available information - the good, the bad and the ugly - when making clearance decisions, applying the criteria for access to classified or sensitive information as spelled out in Intelligence Community Directive (ICD) 704.
Adjudicators assess the collected information against the ICD 704 Adjudicative Guidelines to decide if you are eligible for a clearance or position of trust. If no significant adverse information is uncovered, you'll be granted clearance eligibility at the level requested by your agency. If significant, unfavorable or unresolved material develops, it could mean that your case will be delayed until additional information is gathered and facts are verified. Ultimately, you may be denied a clearance.
Clearances can be denied only on the basis of substantive information that raises concerns about stability, loyalty, character, judgment, reliability or trustworthiness. They are never denied on the basis of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.
The Department of Defense has gone to great lengths to ensure that the clearance process is fair and balanced. Clearances aren't denied without people getting a chance to give their side of the story - to explain or rebut any derogatory information that has been developed.