SECURITY CLEARANCE MANUAL
The purpose of this book is to help people obtain a government security clearance as quickly as possible. Even if you have never experienced any problems, such as those enumerated in the “Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility For Access to Classified Information,” your clearance could take longer unless you understand the security clearance process and do everything you can to speed it along. By filling out your security form in a way that will facilitate the investigation, you greatly increase your chances of having your case completed ahead of others and in the shortest amount of time possible. If there are security or suitability issues in your case, the way you present information during a personal interview with an investigator can affect the level at which your case is adjudicated and the length of time required to process your case.
An independent analysis by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) of 2,259 Department of Defense (DoD) contractor personnel Top Secret clearances granted in January and February 2006 determined that it took an average of 446 days for an initial clearance and 545 days for a clearance update. The report provided a breakdown of the processing time for initial Top Secret clearances for DoD contractor personnel as 111 days for application submission, 286 days for investigation, and 39 days for adjudication. For updating Top Secret clearances on DoD contractor personnel it took 81 days for application submission, 419 days for investigation, and 36 days for adjudication. The average days for the phases do not sum to the average days for the total clearance process, because the number of applicable cases varies for each calculation.
Bear in mind that these are only averages, and averages are merely mathematical calculations. There are Top Secret clearances that are granted in less than one-fourth of the average time and some that take much longer than the average. You can significantly influence how long your clearance takes.
The figures cited above from GAO-06-1070 represent only cases adjudicated by the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO). DISCO is authorized to grant or continue security clearances on completely clean cases and cases where only minor unfavorable information exists. If DISCO is unable to grant or continue a security clearance, the case is forwarded to the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA). In 2004 the Office of the Secretary of Defense mandated that all DoD Central Adjudication Facilities (CAFs), including DISCO, achieve an overall response time of 30 days. However, response time does not mean the time taken to reach a final adjudicative decision. It means the time to reach a favorable decision and grant the clearance or the time to reach a preliminary unfavorable decision and issue a “Letter of Intent” (LOI) to deny a security clearance (or in the case of DISCO, forward the case to DOHA). There are no reliable figures available regarding the length of time it takes from the issuance of an LOI to a final clearance decision, but anecdotal information suggests a period of two to six months. If a clearance is denied or revoked, the appeal process can take an additional two to seven months.
In most instances having a current Secret or “L” Clearance will not reduce the time necessary to obtain a final higher level clearance. Likewise, having had a Top Secret or “Q” Clearance more than five years ago will not reduce the time necessary to obtain a new final clearance at the same level. If your spouse and parents hold security clearances, it will not reduce the time necessary for your clearance.
The greatest impediment to getting a security clearance as quickly as possible is failing to provide complete, accurate and detailed information on your Questionnaire for National Security Positions (Standard Form 86—SF86). Almost everyone who completes an SF86 (or its electronic equivalent) is so focused on himself that he does not stop to consider how the information is going to be used. The people who will spend the most time reading and analyzing your SF86 are investigators and investigative support personnel. Investigators use this form as a road map in conducting your investigation. If they can follow the map easily, they can complete your investigation in a week or two, once they begin working on it. Choosing the right people to list as character references and those who can verify your residence, education, and employment can reduce processing time by weeks. To choose correctly you need to understand the investigator’s goals and methodology.
Merely following the instructions on the SF86 and providing the requested information is not enough. Often the questions on the form are not clear. Some questions require specialized knowledge to answer correctly. If you are applying for a Top Secret clearance, the instructions on the SF86 are incomplete. There are supplement instructions that many applicants never receive. There are situations where it is to your advantage to provide more information than the form requests. There are also situations where it is to your advantage to disclose only the information requested.
Currently there are three different methods of submitting an application for a security clearance—a paper SF86, an Electronic Personnel Security Questionnaire (EPSQ) and a new web-based application called eQIP (electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing). According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) about 11 percent of the February 2005 clearance investigation requests submitted outside of eQIP were returned to the requesting offices, because missing or discrepant information could not be obtained telephonically before the investigation was opened. Having your application rejected in this manner can easily add an extra month to the process. Also according to OPM about 9 percent of the May 2006 clearance investigations requests submitted through eQIP were rejected.
The second greatest impediment to getting a security clearance as quickly as possible is the presence of unfavorable information in your SF86 and in your case reports. If you present such information properly in your SF86 and during your Personal Subject Interview (PRSI) or Special Interview (SPIN), it will allow the investigators and the adjudicator (who reviews your case and makes the initial decision to grant or not grant your clearance) to process your investigation ahead of other problematic cases. You can do more to influence the outcome of your clearance request than anyone else simply by completing your security clearance application form properly and being proactive during your personal interview.
An analysis of 12,212 Defense Investigative Service (DIS) security clearance investigations was conducted in 1995. Of the 3,777 initial investigations for Top Secret clearances, only 12 percent were considered clean, 69 percent contained minor derogatory information, and 19 percent contained major derogatory information. Historically rates of derogatory information in investigations for Confidential and Secret clearances have been higher. The implementation of the NACLC (National Agency Check with Local Agency Checks and Credit Check) in 1998 for Confidential and Secret clearance resulted in even higher rates of derogatory information in these investigations. This was because of the credit bureau report and local police records checks that were added to the standard National Agency Check (NAC), which had previously been the basis for granting Confidential and Secret clearances. There are no current reliable figures available for the rate of major derogatory information in initial investigations for Confidential and Secret clearance. An estimate of over 25 percent would not be unreasonable.
Investigators and adjudicators are constantly faced with conflicting priorities and incredible pressure to process as many cases as possible, as quickly as possible. They are human beings who respond to overwhelming workload in the same way as others. They naturally focus on those cases they can do quickly and easily and set other cases aside to be worked later, perhaps much later.
This book was written primarily for the person who is applying for a security clearance from DoD, because DoD grants about 80 percent of all security clearances in the federal government and uses standardized investigations as the basis for those clearances. Other federal agencies rely on a variety of different investigations for employment and security clearance purposes too numerous to cover adequately in one book. OPM conducts 90 percent of all federal background investigations and services more than 100 federal agencies and departments, including DoD.
In this book you will find information that will help you distinguish between serious and minor unfavorable information, and how that information is applicable to the security clearance process. You will learn what information (about you) the investigator and adjudicator need to do their jobs as quickly as possible. It may seem that this book advises the applicant to do a lot of the investigator’s work for him. It does. Every security investigator handles literally hundreds of investigations each year. Most applicants will only have one initial security investigation in their entire lives. You should be willing to spend a few extra hours of your time to do some of the investigator’s work for him, if it will result in reducing the processing time by weeks or even months.
ORGANIZATION OF THE BOOK
Chapters 1 through 4 of this book provide information regarding types of security clearances, investigative standards, processes involved in applying for the clearance, the investigation, adjudication, and post-adjudicative actions. Chapters 5 through 11 are divided into sections addressing each of the sections of the SF86. These chapters provide information on how to fill out each section of the form and how each section of the form relates to the investigative process and the adjudicative standards, including applicable excerpts from the Adjudicative Guidelines. However, parts of Guideline E: Personal Conduct that relate to intentional omission/falsification of information and vulnerability to blackmail, apply to all sections of the SF86 (as well as the PRSI and SPIN) and are therefore not repeated in each section, unless there is special applicability to that section.
Instructions for the SF86 (including supplemental instructions for Single Scope Background Investigations) require inclusion of information covering different periods of time for different sections of the questionnaire. Often the National Investigative Standards (see Chapter 1, pages 6–15) specify time periods that are not the same as the instructions in the SF86. Additionally, OPM implementation of the National Investigative Standards sometimes specify slightly different time periods, particularly as they pertain to young people. Instructions in this book are based on a combination of the SF86 instructions and the National Investigative Standards.
The December 2005 Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility For Access to Classified Information is reprinted in its entirety at Appendix B. Examples of cases adjudicated by the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals are presented, so the reader can see under what circumstances clearances were granted and denied. To the extent possible information in these chapters follows the same sequence as the questions on the SF86. Much of the information presented in this book is extracted directly from public documents.
Within investigative and adjudicative documents dealing with security clearances, the applicant is often referred to as the “subject” of the investigation. Throughout this book the terms Applicant and Subject are used interchangeably.
Headings entitled: SECURITY FORM, APPLICABLE ADJUDICATIVE GUIDLINES, NACLC, SSBI/SSBI-PR, and EXAMPLES OF CLEARANCE ADJUDICATION repeatedly appear throughout Chapters 5 through 11 of this book. Information under those headings relies heavily on five sources. Rather than repeatedly citing these sources as footnotes for the information under those heading, the sources are cited below.
SECURITY FORM refers to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management Standard Form 86 (EG), revised September 1995.
Information under the heading APPLICABLE ADJUDICATIVE GUIDELINES was extracted from an attachment to the Memorandum for the Director, Information Security Oversight Office from the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Subject: Adjudicative Guidelines, 29 December 2005 (The White House, Washington, DC), entitled: Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility For Access to Classified Information.
Information under the headings NACLC and SSBI/SSBI-PR relied upon the contents of Director of Central Intelligence Directive No. 6/4, Annex A—Investigative Standards for Background Investigations for Access to Classified Information, 2 July 1998 and Department of Defense Regulation 5200.2-R, “DoD Personnel Security Program,” Appendix 1—Investigative Scope, January 1987 (Administrative Reissuance Incorporating Through Change 3, February 23, 1996).
Information under the heading EXAMPLES OF CLEARANCE ADJUDICATION was obtained from the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals website, http://www.dod.mil/dodgc/doha/industrial/.
NUMBER OF SECURITY CLEARANCES
There are about 3.2 million people who hold security clearances granted by the Federal government. Almost 2.5 million of these individuals are affiliated with the Department of Defense (DoD civilian, military and contractor personnel). For fiscal year 2006 (October 2005 through September 2006), OPM conducted over 713,000 requests for security clearance investigations and about 1,000,000 requests for other government background investigations. OPM anticipates a larger number of requests in fiscal year 2007.
COST OF INVESTIGATIONS
For over 40 years there has been a persistent myth that the cost of a full field security investigation such as a Single Scope Background Investigation was about $10,000. It is doubtful that it was ever that expensive. Before the Defense Investigative Service (DIS) was established in 1972, there was decentralized case control and considerable duplication of effort, because each of the military services operated independently. Military investigators were typing their own reports on manual typewriters with four carbon copies, writing separate reports for each interview and record check, and repeating the same lengthy verbiage in most of their reports. DIS changed all of that. They consolidated all the military investigators into one agency, immediately gaining economy of scale. They introduced abbreviated report writing, hired clerical staff, established centralized case control, and implemented the electronic transmission of reports and modern techniques for file management and retrieval.
Today there are six investigative organizations working for OPM (the Office of Personnel Management)—one federal workforce and five contractor workforces. The economy of scale once enjoyed by DIS has been lost, and the costs of investigations have increased due to partial privatization. Nevertheless, as of October 1, 2006 OPM charged their customers (including DoD) the following amounts:
INVESTIGATION TYPE Priority Handling Standard Service
NACLC (National Agency Check with Law and Credit) $240 $192
ANACI (Access National Agency Check and Inquiries) $260 $220
SSBI-PR (Periodic Reinvestigation for SSBI) $2,625 $2,400
SSBI (Single Scope Background Investigation) $3,900 $3,550
FEE FOR SERVICE
Each of the military services pays OPM for its security clearance investigations. Their cost represents a fraction of a percent of their overall budget. The Defense Security Service (DSS) is appropriated money to cover the cost of clearance investigations on Defense Contractor personnel (also known as industrial cases) processed by its Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO). In May 2006 DSS announced that it could no longer submit requests to OPM for Priority Investigations on industrial cases due to lack of funds. Later that same month it announced that it had to stop submitting all requests for investigations on industrial cases. They claimed that within the first eight months of the fiscal year, requests for industrial cases had exceeded their projections (and funding) for the entire year. They subsequently obtained supplemental funding and on July 10, 2006 DISCO resumed accepting applications from industry for all types of personnel security investigations.
Recently there has been discussion about Defense contractors paying for their own investigations. This raises a many questions regarding how DoD contractors will pay for investigations. It’s possible that some may choose to have the applicant pay for the investigation. Others may have the applicant pay for the investigation, then reimburse the applicant over a period of time. Some will add the cost of investigations to their contracts.
BEFORE YOU CAN APPLY
FOR A SECURITY CLEARANCE
Before you can apply for a security clearance, you must be hired for a position that requires a clearance. Most of these jobs exist in the Armed Forces (including reserves and National Guard), DoD civilian positions, and DoD contractor positions. Some exist in the Department of Energy (DOE) and with DOE contractors, and to a more limited extent with other federal agencies.
If you foresee the lack of a security clearance as limiting your ability to get the job that you want, there are ways to get the security clearance first by accepting part-time employment while preparing yourself for your eventual career. If you are a student and you eventually want to work for a defense contractor, apply for a part-time position at a security guard company that provides services to a DoD cleared contractor facility or at a DoD cleared contractor facility that has an in-house security guard force. If you don’t mind a long-term commitment, you can join a reserve component of the Armed Forces or a National Guard unit. Be sure that your enlistment contract guarantees a specialty that requires a security clearance (preferably a Top Secret clearance).
U.S. military operations in Iraq and the war on terrorism have created thousands of position in the defense industry, many of which require security clearances. Defense contractors are actively recruiting personnel with security clearances for a variety of technical and professional positions. The number of positions available far exceeds the number of cleared applicants. So much so that defense contractors are offering bonuses and other inducements to recruit cleared personnel from their competitors.