A collateral security clearance is a clearance that does not include access to information protected within a Special Access Program (SAP), like Sensitive Compartment Information (SCI) or Restricted Data (RD).
Although often referred to as a clearance; eligibility for a Public Trust position is not a national security clearance. In addition to sensitivity designations, all federal positions are ranked as low risk, moderate risk, and high risk. Only positions ranked as moderate risk and high risk are considered Public Trust positions. Requirements for these positions are governed by Title 5 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 731 and the Federal Investigative Standards for all competitive service federal jobs. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) recommends that the standards at 5 CFR 731 be used for all federal contractor positions, as well as all other federal job, including temporary positions and excepted service positions.
Tier 1 investigations are required for determining eligibility for basic federal employment suitability/fitness and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 credentialing. Tier 2 and Tier 4 investigations are required for Moderate Risk and High Risk Public Trust positions. There are currently five tiers of federal personnel security investigations (PSIs), but the Government plans to reduce the number of tiers to three in fiscal year 2024. The investigations will be called Low Tier, Moderate Tier, and High Tier. Planned billing rates for these new investigations are listed at Federal Investigations Notice No. 22-02.
There are contractor personnel working at some adjudicative facilities. They assist Government adjudicators by reviewing PSIs and making written recommendations, but only a Government employee can make a security clearance determination.
An interim or temporary security clearance can be issued before a PSI is completed and a final clearance is granted. An interim or temporary clearance is based on some limited checks, a review of the clearance application form, and the initiation of the appropriate PSI. An interim clearance can be granted at the Secret or Top Secret levels. Usually an interim clearance determination can be made in a week or two. A person with a final Secret clearance can usually be granted an interim Top Secret clearance as soon as a Tier 5 investigation is initiated. Security Executive Agent Directive 8 (SEAD 8) governs the issuance of interim and temporary security clearance.
An interim security clearance allows a person to have access to classified information at the level of the interim clearance, while his or her final clearance is being processed. All DoD applicants for collateral security clearances are considered for interim clearance eligibility. For interim or temporary access to classified information within a Special Access Program (SAP) special authorization is required. Interim clearances can be withheld or withdrawn after they are granted. The withholding or withdrawal of an interim clearance does not mean that a final will not be issued, and it is not considered a clearance denial. It means there is potentially disqualifying information that must be fully investigated before a clearance eligibility determination can be made.
There are dozens of Government agencies that issue security clearances. DoD civilians, contractors, and military personnel account for about 88 percent of all security clearances. Almost all DoD clearances were issued by the DoD Consolidated Adjudications Facility (CAF). In 2019 DoD CAF became part of the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) and is now called the DCSA Consolidated Adjudications Services (CAS). A very small percentage of DoD clearances are issued by the three-lettered DoD IC CAFs, which have their own adjudicative offices collocated with DCSA CAS at Fort Meade, MD.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issues the next largest number of clearances. DHS including its component agencies accounts for about four percent of all clearances. The Department of Energy (DoE) issues about one percent of all clearances. All other Executive Branch departments and agencies account for less than one percent each with most accounting for less than one-tenth of one percent. They include executive branch departments, like Justice, State, Transportation, Treasury, Health and Human Services, Interior, Commerce, and Veterans Affairs, as well as agencies such as CIA, USAID, BBG, Peace Corps, TVA, GAO, OPM, USITC, and USPS.
A slightly different process is used for federal employees, military personnel, and intelligence community applicants, but the basic steps of application, investigation, and adjudication are the same. This is changing (see What happens if the Government decides to deny or revoke a security clearance?, below).
Once an investigation is completed and returned to the appropriate adjudications facility, an adjudicator reviews the Report of Investigation and previous investigations, as required. All federal security clearance adjudicators use the 13 criteria listed in the National Security Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information or Eligibility to Hold a Sensitive Position. The NSAG is contained within Security Executive Agent Directive 4 (SEAD 4) at Appendix A. The security criteria in the NSAG are:
Since 2008, Financial Considerations, Guideline F of the National Security Adjudicative Guidelines, has been the most frequently cited issue in cases decided by the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA). It has appeared in about 50 percent of these cases. Guideline E, Personal Conduct, has consistently been number two, but most Guideline E cases involve false information on a clearance application form regarding some other issue, like alcohol, drugs, criminal conduct, or finances. Guideline B, Foreign Influence has consistently been number three. The next three most common issues are Drug Involvement, Criminal Conduct, and Alcohol Consumption, but they have change positions relative to each other from year to year.
An individual whose security clearance is being denied or revoked by the Government has the right to rebut and appeal the decision. Currently the process for doing this differs for people sponsored by Government agencies (civilian and military personnel) and people sponsored by cleared contractors. Presidential Executive Order 12968, "Access to Classified Information," prescribes the clearance process for everyone being considered for a national security clearance. Executive Order 10865, "Safeguarding Classified Information Within Industry," further prescribes the process for most federal contractors. The provisions of DoD Manual 5200.02 apply to DoD civilians and military personnel, Title 10 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 710, applies to DOE, and Intelligence Community Policy Guidance 704.3 (ICPG 704.3) applies to the Intelligence Community (IC). Many other federal agencies have their own written procedures for rebutting and appealing unfavorable clearance decisions, but they all conform to the requirements in Executive Order 12968.
The rebuttal and appeal process for clearance denials and revocations is somewhat different for federal civilian employees, military personnel, and those with access to Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI). In all cases there is an opportunity to respond in writing to an SOR (or other detailed written explanation of the basis for the denial or revocation) and request a review of the unfavorable decision. There is also an opportunity to present your case in person to a hearing officer or AJ at or after the review stage and to a three-member appeal board at the appeal stage. Under the current process, DCSA CAS or one of the DoD Intelligence Community (IC) CAFs makes the final decision to deny or revoke security clearance for DoD civilians, military personnel, and contractors with SCI eligibility. Such decisions are appealable to the appropriate military service or DoD agency Personnel Security Appeal Board (PSAB). By memorandum dated 14 January 2021, the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security (USD-I&S) directed that collateral and SCI clearance denials and revocations for all DoD personnel be processed through DOHA. This change was to have become effective on September 30, 2022, but there have been delays and no new implementation date has been set. In the interim, all DoD applicants facing clearance denial or revocation can request a DOHA hearing and decision, if they are willing to wait until the new process is implemented.
Very few positions require Personnel Security Screening (PSS) polygraph examinations. For those positions that are designated as needing a PSS exam, the exams are conducted as part of the process of determining initial or continuing eligibility for access to Top Secret information/Sensitive Compartmented Information or other Special Access Program (SAP) information. The first two of the three types of exams listed below may be used as a component of a PSS polygraph program. The third type may be used as part of a security clearance investigation, when needed to resolve a specific issue:
A security clearance cannot be denied or revoked only because of an unfavorable polygraph test result. If the polygraph exam surfaces any indication of the existence of a potentially disqualifying condition for security clearance, there must be corroboration from some other source of information. This corroboration usually comes directly from statements made by the applicant during the pre-test or post-test phase of the PSS polygraph exam.
When you are granted a security clearance, you will be notified by your Facility Security Officer (FSO) or your Government Security Manager. Before you are given access to classified information, your employer must give you a security briefing and have you sign a nondisclosure agreement.
Many contractors say that a security clearance is needed to apply for their jobs. How can I get a security clearance in advance so I can apply for these jobs and can I pay for it myself? 2b1af7f3a8