Why Does it Take So Long to Get Security Clearance?

It’s no secret that the security clearance process takes a long time. How long does it take? The length of time it takes from beginning to end depends on the type of security clearance, which federal agency is involved, and the presence of significant unfavorable information about the applicant. On the lower end, it can take 30 to 180 days to complete clearance, while it can take between six months and over a year for others.

But why the hold up on some clearances or certain applications? While some security clearance determinations are made quickly, others can take over 12 months, but there are reasons behind the delay. To better explain why this is, it helps to understand how the process works.

For starters, clearance processing comes in three stages: 1) the application, 2) the investigation, and 3) adjudication. Historically, most of the delays occur during phase 2, the investigation. However, a significant number of investigators have been hired, so the average time for clearance investigations has reduced significantly. Nowadays, we see most of the delays occurring during the application and adjudication phases.

Common Causes of Delays

So, what are the common causes of delays during phase one and three of clearance processing? They are as follows:

  1. The Subject Interview is delayed because the applicant isn’t available
  2. The security clearance application form is missing data
  3. The applicant put inaccurate data on the security clearance application
  4. There are issues with fingerprint submission
  5. There are serious security issues
  6. There are suitability issues

The first problem usually occurs because the applicant is out of the country. If he or she is on active duty and in a war zone, their Subject Interview will generally be delayed until the applicant returns to the United States. We’ve also seen significant delays when an applicant is in a specific country, namely Germany, Great Britain, Japan, or South Korea.

When the problem has to do with #2 or #3, the application can be rejected and returned. Roughly 5 percent of security clearance applications are rejected due to missing or inaccurate data and this can lead to a delay in up to 60 days. If there is an issue with #5 or #6, the delay can be even longer. If a serious issue arises, additional information may be requested, which can add months to the case. Lastly, there can be backlog issues, which can make queuing time excessive.