What Happens During a Security Clearance Investigation?

As part of the process for determining your suitability for a federal position requiring security clearance, an investigations service provider will conduct a background investigation. The investigator will search for information about various aspects of your life, including your employment and criminal history. Because agencies need to be thorough, the investigation can take a substantial amount of time, with the duration varying based on the level of clearance your sponsoring agency says you need. Depending on your situation, you may be granted an interim clearance, allowing you to work while the full investigation is being completed.

Going through the security clearance process can be complex. At Claery & Hammond, LLP, our lawyers provide legal counsel at each stage. Contact us at (877) 362-3176 today.

The Purpose of the Background Investigation

Certain positions with the U.S. Government may require incumbents to access classified information. The release of the materials could put national security and U.S. citizens' welfare at risk. Thus, anyone seeking a federal job must be cleared to handle sensitive documents and trusted not to reveal information they come across.

The security clearance background investigation verifies a person’s trustworthiness and fitness to hold a federal government position.

The suitability requirements apply to individuals seeking roles as:

What Do Investigators Look For?

During the investigation, investigators will gather details about your family, residence, criminal, alcohol or substance abuse, and credit histories. Essentially, they are looking into and verifying the information you included on your Standard Form (SF) 86.

How in-depth investigators will go depends on the level of clearance required for your position. The clearance level is determined by the damage that could be done to national security if information is released.

The levels include:

  • Confidential: Release of information could cause damage.
  • Secret: Release of information could cause serious damage.
  • Top secret: Release of information could cause grave damage.

The investigation for positions requiring access to top secret material will be more rigorous than that for jobs requiring access to confidential data.

That said, the steps in the process – regardless of clearance level – will be similar. They include:

  • Receipt of an electronic questionnaire: Before the investigation service provider begins your background check, your sponsoring agency will send you an electronic questionnaire and a release that you must sign. You may also be asked to submit your fingerprints and supporting documents, such as a list of your residence or employment history.
  • Submission of the electronic questionnaire: After you’ve completed the questionnaire and release and have provided supplemental information, you must send everything back to your sponsoring agency.
  • Initiation of the background check: The investigation service provider, which could be your sponsoring agency (if it has the authority), the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA), or another authorized agency, will start your background check.

The investigator may verify your information by contacting:

    • Law enforcement agencies,
    • Courts,
    • Credit bureaus,
    • Employers,
    • Educational institutions,
    • Landlords,
    • Co-workers,
    • Neighbors, and
    • Family members.

Generally, requests for information are made in writing. However, in some circumstances, the investigator will make a personal visit to get the details they’re looking for. The investigator may also interview you to clarify your statements on your SF86.

How Long Does the Investigation Take?

The duration of the investigation will depend on the level of clearance you need. It will take longer for positions requiring access to higher-level information.

Once the background check is complete, the details will be sent to your sponsoring agency, which will determine whether you should be granted security clearance. The decision is based on your judgment, reliability, and trustworthiness.

Can You Work While the Investigation Is Ongoing?

You may be able to work on a temporary basis while the investigation is pending by getting an interim clearance. This may be granted when the preliminary background check has not identified any significant issues in your criminal history.

Get Help from an Attorney

Going through the security clearance process can be overwhelming. You must proceed through several steps and keep track of various pieces of paperwork. Our lawyers at Claery & Hammond, LLP can assist with application preparation, denials, appeals, and hearings. We can also provide clear and thorough answers to your questions, helping you understand what to expect.

To speak with a member of our team, please call (877) 362-3176 or submit an online contact form today.