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How to Get a Security Clearance

Obtaining a Department of Defense (DOD) security clearance is a common requirement for individuals seeking positions that involve access to classified information within the United States. If you’re pursuing a career with government agencies, defense contractors, or other related fields, a DOD security clearance is often a non-negotiable requirement. This clearance ensures that only trustworthy and reliable individuals are granted access to sensitive information, in order to safeguard national security.

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What Is a DOD Security Clearance?

A DOD security clearance is a designation that grants individuals access to classified national security information for roles where they may handle materials that, if released, may harm the United Stated. Obtaining this clearance involves a rigorous background investigation, including the completion of Standard Form 86 (SF-86), which collects detailed personal information on the applicant. The security clearance process assesses various aspects of a candidate’s life, such as character, honesty, reliability, and discretion, through polygraph tests, psychological evaluations, credit checks, and interviews with personal and professional contacts.

Who Needs a Security Clearance?

A security clearance is required for individuals whose job requires access to classified government documents or secure facilities. This clearance is necessary for a wide range of roles within government agencies and defense contractors, including high-ranking officials and military personnel as well as support staff such as administrative workers, IT professionals, and security personnel. The level of clearance required– Confidential clearance, Secret clearance, and Top Secret clearance– correspond to the sensitivity of the information accessed and the potential damage its unauthorized disclosure could cause to national security. Examining the job description or consulting with the hiring agency can clarify whether specific roles require a security clearance.

Steps to Gain a DOD Security Clearance

The process of obtaining a DOD security clearance is comprehensive and can be time-consuming, often taking several months to complete. Here are the essential steps involved:

  1. Job offer: The process begins when a candidate receives an offer of employment for a position that requires a security clearance. This potential employer is known as the sponsor.
  2. Completion of Standard Form 86 (SF-86): The candidate must fill out SF-86, a detailed questionnaire that gathers extensive personal information, including history of residence, employment, education, arrests, drug use, finances, and foreign contacts.
  3. Preliminary screening: Initial checks, such as fingerprinting and verification of U.S. citizenship, are conducted to confirm basic eligibility.
  4. Background investigation:
    1. Credit check: A review of the candidate’s financial history to ensure there are no vulnerabilities that could be exploited.
    2. National Agency Check (NAC): A thorough review of the candidate’s criminal, financial, and other records.
    3. Interviews: Investigators will interview friends, neighbors, supervisors, and coworkers to verify the candidate’s character and reliability.
    4. Personal interview: The candidate will have a personal interview with a security officer to review the information provided and clarify any issues.
  5. Polygraph test: Some positions may require a polygraph test to verify the accuracy of the information provided in SF-86 and during interviews.
  6. Psychological evaluation: In some cases, candidates may undergo psychological or medical evaluations to ensure they are mentally fit to handle classified information.
  7. Adjudication: Evaluation of the candidate’s trustworthiness, reliability, overall suitability, and loyalty to obtain a security clearance for access to information deemed classified.
  8. Final decision: If the candidate successfully passes all stages of the background investigation and adjudication, a final job offer is extended, and the security clearance is granted.

The Defense Security Service (DSS) and other relevant agencies oversee this process to ensure that only the most reliable individuals are granted clearance.

What Makes a DOD Security Clearance Unique

A DOD clearance is unique due to its stringent requirements and thorough vetting process, permitting only the most reliable personnel security clearance to access classified information. The comprehensive background investigation includes checks on financial history, criminal records, and personal conduct, often involving polygraph tests and psychological evaluations. Continuous monitoring and periodic reinvestigations are also required, ensuring ongoing compliance with security standards. This rigorous process aligns with the specific needs of the defense sector, making a DOD security clearance distinct from other types of clearances.

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Things to Consider Before Proceeding

Before pursuing a DOD security clearance, consider the following:

  • Intrusiveness of the process: The clearance process is highly intrusive, involving detailed background checks, including financial history, criminal records, and social interactions. Interviews with friends, neighbors, and colleagues, as well as possible polygraph tests and psychological evaluations, are standard.
  • Potential disqualifiers: Factors like criminal conduct, drug involvement, significant financial issues, and risky foreign contacts can disqualify you. Assess and address any potential red flags in your background beforehand.
  • Job security and career impact: A security clearance can enhance job opportunities in government and defense sectors. However, losing a clearance can lead to job loss or reassignment. Maintaining compliance with clearance requirements is crucial.
  • Personal and family considerations: The process affects not only you but also your family. Investigators may review your spouse’s background and foreign connections. Discuss the level of scrutiny with your family.
  • Legal and ethical obligations: Obtaining and maintaining a clearance involves strict guidelines for handling classified information and reporting personal circumstance changes.

Speak With a Security Clearance Lawyer Today!

A security clearance lawyer can help you assess your eligibility, address potential disqualifiers, and guide you through the application process. They can also offer support if issues arise during the investigation or adjudication phases, ensuring that you are well-prepared to secure and maintain your clearance. If you receive a notice that the agency intends to deny your application, a security clearance attorney can fight to overturn that decision and help you obtain the clearance.

If your career requires a DOD security clearance, don’t leave anything to chance. Speak with one of our experienced security clearance lawyers today to get the advice and support you need.

As a Managing Partner at Tully Rinckey PLLC, Anthony Kuhn focuses much of his time on the representation of military personnel and members of the intelligence community. He has extensive experience assisting clients in navigating matters involving security clearance suspensions and revocations, appeals to the Discharge Review Boards and Boards for Correction of Military Records, UCMJ violations and non-judicial punishment, appeals for service-connection before the Department of Veterans Affairs, rebuttals to GOMORs and QMP selection notifications and requests for Special Selection Boards. He also serves as the Chair of the National Security Lawyers Association. He can be reached at or at (888) 747-9889.

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