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Security Clearance - Frequently Asked Questions
Added by Michael Cummins of Computer Assistant
Monday, June 21, 2010


Many of our technicians have Security Clearances in order to work with some governmental agencies, including the Department of Defense.  If you are interested in getting a Security Clearance, the following FAQ will be helpful.


What is a security clearance?

A security clearance is a determination by the United States government that a person or company is eligible for access to classified information. There are two types of clearances: Personnel Security Clearances (PCL) and Facility Security Clearance (FCL). Government agencies that issue clearances often refer to clearances as “eligibility for access.”

What is DISCO?

The Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO) is part of the Defense Security Service (DSS), an agency of the Department of Defense (DoD). DISCO processes and adjudicates Personnel Clearances (PCL) and Facility Clearances (FCL) for defense contractor personnel and defense contractor facilities. It is one of eight Central Adjudication Facilities (CAF) within DoD. 

What are the security clearance levels?

Security clearances can be issued by many United States government agencies, including the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy (DoE), the Department of Justice, and the Central Intelligence Agency. DoE clearances include the “L,” and “Q” levels. DoD issues more than 80% of all clearances. There are three levels of DoD security clearances: 



Top Secret.

What type of information is requested on a security clearance application?

The application form requires personal identifying data, as well as information regarding residence, education and employment history; family and associates; and foreign connections/travel. Additionally, it asks for information about arrests, illegal drug involvement, financial delinquencies, mental health counseling, alcohol counseling, military service, prior clearances, civil court actions, and subversive activities. The number of years of information required on the form depends on the level of clearance involved. For instance, residence, education, and employment history for a Top Secret clearance requires ten years of information, whereas a Secret clearance requires seven years.

How long does a clearance remain in effect?

Generally as long as cleared individuals remain employed by a cleared contractor and are reasonably expected to require access to classified information, their personnel security clearance will remain in effect, provided they comply with periodic reinvestigation requirements.

When is a clearance terminated?

A clearance is terminated when a person permanently leaves a position for which the clearance was granted. Cleared individuals who no longer require access to classified information, but who remain continuously employed by the same cleared contractor and do not anticipate future access can have their clearances administratively downgraded or withdrawn until such time that they require access again, provided their security investigation has not expired. Under such circumstances the clearance can be administratively restored.

What do the terms “active,” “current” and “expired” mean?

People either have a clearance or they don’t have a clearance. The Personnel Security Investigation (PSI) on which the clearance is based can be either “current” or “expired.” PSIs are current if they are not more than five years old for a Top Secret clearance, 10 years old for a Secret clearance, or 15 years old for a Confidential clearance. Generally, if the PSI is out-of-date (expired) or there has been a break-in-service of two years or more, a person must be nominated for a new clearance and must complete a new application in the same manner as a person who never had a clearance.

Can a clearance be reinstated after it has been terminated?

Yes. If a person previously had a clearance and the investigation is still current, the clearance can be reinstated by the agency that originally granted the clearance or it can be accepted and granted by a different agency, provided there hasn’t been a break-in-service of two years or more. This usually only entails the submission of a new application and a favorable review of the application by the clearance granting authority.

What is an interim security clearance?

An interim clearance (also known as “interim eligibility”) is based on the completion of minimum investigative requirements and granted on a temporary basis, pending the completion of the full investigative requirements for the final clearance. Interim Secret clearances can be issued rather quickly once the clearance granting authority receives a properly completed application. Interim Top Secret clearances take two or three months longer. Interim clearances can be denied, if unfavorable information is listed on the application form or at any time unfavorable information is developed during the investigation. All applicants are considered for interim clearances by the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office.

With some exceptions an interim clearance permits a person to have access to classified material at all levels of classification up to the level of the clearance requested. Interim Secret clearances are not sufficient for access to special categories of classified information, such as COMSEC, NATO, and Restricted Data. Interim Top Secret clearances are sufficient for access to COMSEC, NATO, and Restricted Data at the Secret and Confidential levels only.

Getting a Clearance

Can I obtain a security clearance on my own?

No. You must be sponsored by a cleared contractor or a government entity. To be sponsored you must be employed by a cleared contractor (or hired as a consultant) in a position that requires a clearance. As an exception, a candidate for employment may be submitted for a clearance if the cleared contractor has made a binding offer of employment and the candidate has accepted the offer. Both the offer and acceptance must be in writing. The offer of employment must indicate that employment will begin within 30 days of receiving the clearance.

Can a Naturalized Citizen get a Personnel Clearance?

Yes. A naturalized citizen is treated the same as a native born US citizen.

Can non-US citizens obtain security clearances?

No. Non-US citizens can not obtain a security clearance; however, they may be granted a Limited Access Authorization (LAA). LAAs are grant in those rare circumstances where the non-US citizen possesses unique or unusual skill or expertise that is urgently needed to support a specific US Government contract involving access to specified classified information (no higher than Secret), and a cleared or clearable US citizen is not readily available.

Personnel Security Clearances (PCL)

Who issues clearances?

The Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO) in Columbus, OH issues DoD contractor Personnel Clearances (PCL). PCLs are based on completed personnel security investigations (PSI) that do not have any serious security or suitability issues. When DISCO is unable to issue a PCL, the case is forwarded to the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) for further consideration.

How much does it cost to get a PCL?

At this time, there is no direct charge for a PCL issued by DISCO.

Clearance Process

What are the steps to getting a Personnel Clearance (PCL)?

A cleared contractor identifies an employee with a need to have access to classified information (e.g., the employee will work on a classified contract). Once identified, the contractor’s Facility Security Officer (FSO) submits an investigation request through the Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS) and ensures that the employee completes a clearance application in the Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (e-QIP). The FSO then reviews, approves, and forwards the completed e-QIP to the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO) for their approval and release to Office of Personnel Management (OPM). OPM conducts an investigation and sends the results of the investigation to DISCO. DISCO either grants a clearance or forwards the investigation to Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) for further adjudication.

For more information go to http://www.clearancejobs.com/security_clearance_faq.pdf

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