Applying for security clearance is no small feat. Still, with a proper understanding of the process and some extra care, applicants can avoid mistakes that can delay it and facilitate a smoother experience. A lawyer can be instrumental in providing the guidance applicants need through each stage, from preparing the application to appealing a denial.
Who Needs a Security Clearance?
A security clearance is an important tool the federal government uses to protect sensitive information and assets. In general, anyone working for the federal government as an employee or contractor requires security clearance if they need to access confidential data as part of their job. This includes employees of the military, intelligence agencies, law enforcement organizations, defense contractors, and some private companies.
Three levels of security clearance exist: confidential, secret, and top secret. Each provides access to different kinds of information or assets needing special protection from unauthorized disclosure or personnel. The type of security clearance someone needs depends on their job duties.
Understanding the Security Clearance Process
The security clearance process is one of the more rigorous a person can go through. It involves completing a lengthy application and may include an extensive background investigation. Every part of a person’s profile will be scrutinized to assess their trustworthiness and determine whether granting security clearance is appropriate for them.
The process involves the following steps:
- Completing the application: Government agencies require security clearance applicants to complete the Standard Form 86 (SF86). Though it asks for highly sensitive and personal information, the SF86 must be completed with honest answers.
- Background investigation: As part of the process, investigators verify the information provided on the SF86. They may search records with law enforcement agencies, courts, creditors, and other organizations.
- Interview: Investigators may speak to the applicant, family members, and acquaintances. The investigator aims to verify the accuracy of the information on the SF86. They might also ask the applicant to clarify certain responses and clear up any inconsistencies.
- Adjudication: All information collected from the applicant and investigation is turned over to the government agency considering the applicant for employment. Based on the findings, the agency may grant or deny security clearance.
Some of the steps in the process may be more involved, depending on the level of clearance the person is applying for.
How Long Does the Process Take?
The security clearance process can take quite a bit of time, depending on the level of clearance needed and the specific agency. The amount of paperwork and data that must be assessed for the individual is substantial and may require extra steps for a thorough review to ensure that only those exhibiting certain characteristics are granted clearance.
Another factor that can affect the length of (or even delay) the security clearance process is the applicant’s contributions. We’ll explore this topic in more detail in the next section.
Common Mistakes Made During the Process
Applicants must provide necessary personal information on their applications and during the background and interview steps. Delays in the security clearance process can happen if errors, inconsistencies, omissions, or dishonesty is discovered.
Common mistakes that can interrupt the process include the following:
- Failing to provide accurate information, such as dates of employment or place of birth.
- Failing to answer all questions completely, such as not including part-time employment or references.
- Trying to cover up unfavorable information, such as a prior arrest.
- Not providing clear copies of documents or not responding to requests for additional paperwork.
- Being unable for an interview because the applicant is out of the country.
- Not resolving issues about unfavorable information during the interview.
Preventing Errors Before They Happen
Generally, a person must receive security clearance before starting work in their government job. An error can slow down the process, preventing someone from moving forward in their career. Thus, catching and correcting mistakes before the application is submitted and preparing for interviews is essential.
Below are some of the steps security clearance applicants can take to avoid processing delays:
- Ensure all questions on the SF86 are answered completely
- Check dates of employment and be prepared to address gaps
- Make sure the references’ contact information is correct
- Ensure that supplemental documentation is legible
- Prepare for the interview and be ready to answer questions about unfavorable details
Seek Assistance from an Experienced Attorney
Obtaining a security clearance can be challenging and time-consuming. The sheer volume of information required can lead to errors or omissions that can slow things down. A lawyer’s help through the process can make all the difference. With their guidance and advice, individuals can prepare required documents with accuracy and confidence. Additionally, an attorney can provide invaluable insight for getting ready for an interview or appeal (if the clearance is denied).
If you need assistance with your security clearance application, reach out to Claery & Hammond, LLP to learn how we may be able to help. Call (877) 362-3176 today.