Security Clearance FAQ

Red question mark

An industrial personnel security clearance, referred to as a "PCL," is an administrative determination that an industrial employee is eligible for access to classified information. This determination is based on investigation and review of available personal data and a finding that access is clearly consistent with national interests.

2. Who Issues the Personnel Security Clearance?

The Department of Defense issues the personnel security clearances for U.S. citizen employees of a contractor who require access to classified information. Clearances may be at the top-secret, secret or confidential level. Requests for clearances are sent to the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO), which issues clearances for industry personnel on behalf of the DoD and user agencies. Personnel security clearances must be kept to an absolute minimum based on contractual needs.

Related: Search for security clearance jobs.

3. Who May Have Access to Classified Information?

Only those persons who have a bona fide need to know and who possess a personnel security clearance at the same or higher level as the classified information to be disclosed may have access to classified information.

4. When May an Individual Be Processed for a Personnel Security Clearance?

An individual may be processed for a personnel security clearance when employed by a cleared contractor in a job requiring access to classified information. As an exception, a candidate for employment may be processed for a personnel security clearance provided a written commitment for employment has been made by the contractor, and the candidate has accepted the offer in writing. The commitment for employment will indicate that employment shall commence within 30 days of the granting of eligibility for a PCL.

5. Are Non-US Citizens Eligible for a Personnel Security Clearance?

No. However, under rare circumstances, a non-U.S. citizen may be issued a limited access authorization for access to classified information. Specific criteria and limitations are provided in the National Industrial Security Operating Manual, or NISPOM. You may also contact your industrial security representative for additional information.

6. May an Individual Who Has Been Granted a Security Clearance Be Authorized Access to Any Classified Information?

No. The individual must have both the appropriate level of personnel security clearance and a need-to-know for the classified information.

7. Do Contractors Have the Authority to Grant, Deny or Revoke Personnel Clearances for Their Employees?

No. This authority is reserved by the government.

8. How Long Does a Personnel Security Clearance Remain in Effect?

Generally speaking, a personnel security clearance remains in effect as long as the individual remains continuously employed by the cleared contractor and can reasonably be expected to require access to classified information. To preclude excessive clearances, the facility security officer should continually review the number of employees with the personnel security clearances and reduce the number of clearances whenever possible.

9. Who May Apply for a Security Clearance?

Individuals cannot apply for a personnel security clearance application on their own. Rather, the company determines whether an employee will require access to classified information in performance of tasks or services related to the fulfillment of a classified contract. Once the company makes this determination, the individual may be processed for a security clearance.

10. What Is the Purpose of a Security Clearance?

The purpose of a security clearance is to determine whether a person is able and willing to safeguard classified national security information, based on their loyalty, character, trustworthiness and reliability.

Related: Does your resume pass the 6-second test? Get a FREE assessment.

11. Who Decides What Level of Clearance a Person Receives?

The company determines the positions that require a security clearance, as well as the level required, based upon the duties and responsibilities of each position. This determination is based on contractual needs and requirements.

12. What Kind of Investigation Is Conducted to Make This Determination?

The kind, or type, of investigation conducted depends on the access level that the individual is required to have to perform their official duties. For access to confidential or secret information, a national agency check with local agency checks and credit check (NACLC) is completed. For access to top-secret or sensitive compartmented information (SCI) information, a single-scope background investigation (SSBI) is required.

13. How Many Types or Levels of Security Clearance Are There?

There are three levels of security clearance, with the highest level being top secret. Secret is the next level of clearance, and confidential is the lowest level. In addition, some classified information has extra protection measures applied, such as SCI and special access programs (SAP). Special approval must be given to have access to this information. "For Official Use Only" is not a security classification. It is used to protect information covered under the Privacy Act and other sensitive data.

14. What Work Does Each Clearance Allow a Person to Do?

A clearance allows a person filling a specific position to have access to classified national security information up to and including the level of clearance that they hold, so long as the person has a need to know for the information to perform their duties.

15. Will My Clearance Transfer to Other Federal Agencies?

In most cases, it will transfer. All federal agencies adjudicate using the 13 Adjudication Guidelines and reciprocal recognition of existing personnel security clearance adjudications throughout the national security community is strongly emphasized by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). OMB has issued guidance regarding reciprocity of access eligibility determinations to ensure that investigations are only conducted to grant new security clearances when they are actually required.

16. Does Having a Security Clearance Guarantee Employment with an Organization?

No. The hiring process addresses whether someone will be initially selected for a particular position within an organization. The security clearance process does not begin until after an applicant is hired or the organization has made a written commitment for employment and the applicant has accepted the offer in writing. Further, personnel security clearances are only initiated when employees will have a need for access to classified information to perform their duties.

17. Who Conducts the Investigation?

The Department of Defense has entered into an agreement with the Office of Personnel Management to conduct the majority of the personnel security investigations (PSIs) performed in connection with granting access to classified information. OPM uses government and contract investigators to conduct these investigations.

18. Are Members of My Family or People Living with Me Subject to a Security Check?

There are circumstances in which limited records checks or an investigation may be conducted on a spouse or cohabitant. National agency checks are conducted on spouses and/or cohabitants of individuals being processed for a top-secret clearance. Additional investigations may be conducted when the spouse or cohabitant is a foreign national.

*A cohabitant is defined as someone with whom you live together as husband and wife and the relationship involves the mutual assumption of marital rights, duties and obligations, which are usually manifested by married people, including, but not necessarily dependent on, sexual relations.

Related: Discover your perfect career path and get customized job recommendations based on your military experience and vocational interests with's Military Skills Translator + Personality Assessment.

19. Why Would I Be Denied a Security Clearance?

The Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information are used by DoD central adjudication facilities to determine both initial and continued eligibility for access to classified information. The adjudication process is an examination of a sufficient period of a person's life to make an affirmative determination that the person is an acceptable security risk.

Eligibility for access to classified information is predicated upon the individual meeting these personnel security guidelines. The adjudication process is the careful weighing of a number of variables known as the whole-person concept. All available, reliable information about the person, past and present, favorable and unfavorable, is considered in reaching a clearance determination. When an individual's life history shows evidence of unreliability or untrustworthiness, questions arise whether the individual can be relied on and trusted to exercise the responsibility necessary for working in a secure environment where protection of classified information is paramount.

20. What Option Do Those Who Have a Security Clearance Revoked or Denied Have to Regain or Attain a Clearance?

An individual whose security clearance has been denied or revoked by a central adjudication facility has the opportunity to appeal the decision. The process for doing so differs between military and civilian personnel and contractors. Executive Order 12968, "Access to Classified Information," prescribes the process for military and civilian personnel. Executive Order 10865, "Safeguarding Classified Information Within Industry," outlines the process for contractors.

For contractor personnel, the denial, revocation and appeal process is the responsibility of the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA). The individual may request a hearing before a DOHA administrative judge in order to provide additional, relevant information and will have the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses.

Upon completion of the hearing, the administrative judge will render a decision. If the decision is to deny or revoke the security clearance, the individual has the opportunity to appeal the decision to the appeal board. The appeal board will review the case file and render its decision. This decision is final and concludes the appeal process.

At the conclusion of the appeal process, an individual whose security clearance has been denied or revoked may not reapply for a security clearance for one year from the date of the final decision. The individual may reapply for a security clearance through their employing activity if there is a need for access to classified information.

The individual is responsible for providing documentation that the circumstances or conditions that resulted in the denial or revocation have been rectified or sufficiently mitigated to warrant reconsideration. The central adjudication facility may accept or reject the reapplication.

21. How Often Is a Security Clearance Renewed?

An individual is normally subject to periodic reinvestigation at a minimum of every five years for a top-secret-level clearance, every 10 years for a secret-level clearance and every 15 years for a confidential-level clearance.

22. What Can Cause a Delay in the Security Clearance Process?

The most common areas of delay include the submission of incomplete security application packages, poorly collected fingerprints and investigations that involve coverage of extensive overseas activities. Individuals can help expedite the process by ensuring they have completed all forms in a thorough, accurate manner; familiarizing themselves with the appearance of a properly rolled set of fingerprints to ensure they are recorded properly; and when possible, providing stateside references that can verify foreign activities.

23. Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreements (SF-312) Guidance

NISPOM Paragraph 3-105 requires that an individual issued an initial personnel security clearance (PCL) execute a classified information nondisclosure agreement (SF-312) before being granted access to classified information and that the completed form is forwarded to the cognizant security agency for retention. The facility security officer (FSO) is responsible for annotating the joint personnel adjudication system (JPAS) with the date the SF-312 was executed and submitting the completed SF-312 to the Personnel Security Management Office for Industry (PSMO-I) for retention. The new, preferred method of transmission is via fax; this allows for a more expedient entry into our systems.

SF-312s should be faxed or mailed: Fax information: 301-833-3942 ATTN: SF-312. If using the fax method, please include the following information on the cover letter:

  • FSO Name
  • FSO Phone Number
  • FSO Fax Number
  • FSO Email Address
  • Subject Name
  • Subject SSN

Personnel Security Management Office for Industry 600 10th Street, Suite 160, Fort Meade, MD 20755-5136

FSOs will be notified to resubmit a new SF-312 if the:

  • Employee Social Security number is incomplete or omitted.
  • Signature of the employee is typed or omitted.
  • Witness signature is typed or omitted.
  • Employee and witness signature dates are not the same.

24. What Can I Do to Speed the Process?

A lot of detailed information is required to conduct a background investigation. Information, such as complete names, addresses, telephone numbers and dates of birth for relatives, will be required. The form the clearance applicant completes is online and permits information to be gathered even after it is filled out (once) and submitted. When periodic updates are required, the applicant will only need to update information that has changed since the initial submission. If the applicant would like to preview the type of information that will be required, access the Questionnaire for National Security Positions (Standard Form 86) and begin collecting information so it will be available when needed.

25. Where Can I Get Assistance Completing My Security Clearance Package or Inquire About the Status of My Security Clearance?

The company facility security officer (FSO) should be the first contact for assistance in completing a security clearance package or to inquire into the status of a security clearance. The DoD Security Services Center is also available.

Related: For the latest veteran jobs postings around the country, visit the Job Search section.

The Next Step: Find the Right Veteran Job

Whether you want to polish up your resume, find veteran job fairs in your area, or connect with employers looking to hire veterans, can help. Sign up for a free membership to have job postings, guides and advice, and more delivered directly to your inbox.

Story Continues

Most Recent Security Clearance Job Posts

  • Sr. SAN Systems Administrator
    ManTech International Corp. - Annapolis Junction, MD - Secure our Nation, Ignite your Future Become an integral part of a diverse team while working at an Industry...
  • Data Analyst Supporting the FBI
    FSA Federal - Linthicum, MD, 21090 - Eligible for 20% pay differential** Be a part of the nationwide law enforcement initiative that removes the tools of crime from criminal organi...
  • Financial Analyst - Navy ERP (Hybrid Remote)
    Herdt Consulting Inc - Washington, DC - An excellent Financial Analyst opportunity with a highly successful, Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB). Every day, our clients trust Her...
    VSolvit LLC - Huntsville, AL, 35898 - VSolvit is seeking a Test Engineer with an Active Secret Clearance with 2-4 years’ experience testing complex electrical surveillance systems ...
  • Senior System Administrator
    DCS Corp - Ridgecrest, CA - Salary Range: $80,084 - $140,000 Perform system administration support to the F-18 Integrated Product Team (IPT) at NAWCWD China Lake. Essential Jo...
View More