Guidelines For Security Clearance Eligibility

Updated: July 31, 2021
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    Security clearances are required for many federal jobs offered to civilian employees, but they are also for military members. The three levels of clearance (Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret) are granted to those who pass background checks and must be re-certified under various circumstances.

    How Do I Apply For A Security Clearance?

    Individuals cannot apply for a security clearance independently; government agencies and approved contractors may submit an individual for a security clearance for a specific job that requires it. An applicant who, if hired, will have access to (or in some cases, mere proximity to) classified information, will be required to hold the proper clearance.

    Who Sets The Standards For Background Checks?

    According to the Department of State, there is a national standard for conducting background checks as a part of the security clearance process. This standard, National Adjudicative Guidelines, is used to inform the “adjudicative process” that goes into a background investigation. This is used for both military and civilian clearances.

    What Is The Adjudicative Process?

    As described by the National Department of State, it is “an examination of a sufficient period of a person’s life to make an affirmative determination that the person is an acceptable security risk. Eligibility for access to classified information is predicated upon the individual meeting these personnel security guidelines. The adjudication process is the careful weighing of several variables known as the whole-person concept.”

    The applicant will be required to submit information about past residences, employment, financial obligations, etc. The security clearance process includes a review of potential foreign influence, drug use, mental health, and other issues. Some areas (especially where mental health issues are concerned) are not automatically flagged as a problem-much depends on the individual circumstances before, during, and after any incidents, occurrences, treatment, judgments, etc.

    What Could Raise Problems With My Security Clearance?

    Various factors could raise problems with your security clearance. Therefore, the best approach to completing the application forms for a security clearance is to be completely honest, open, and thorough.

    The scope of a background investigation will include the following personal characteristics, tendencies, and behavior. Any sign that you may have significant problems in any of these areas will probably raise a flag and need further investigation and possible denial of the clearance.

    • Allegiance to the United States
    • Potential for foreign influence
    • A foreign preference
    • Sexual behavior
    • Personal conduct
    • Financial considerations
    • Alcohol consumption
    • Drug involvement and substance misuse
    • Emotional, mental, and personality disorders
    • Criminal conduct
    • Handling protected information
    • Outside activities
    • Misuse of information technology

    Legal entanglements may be an issue depending on the nature of the problem (arrests for “serious crime,” violations of parole, etc.), as well as certain sexual conduct described by the National Adjudicative Guidelines as “illegal” or “self-destructive.” Evidence of excessive debt complicated by an apparent unwillingness to resolve such debt could also be a factor. These issues obviously do not apply to all applicants, but one issue does affect each and every person who applies for a security clearance—the degree of cooperation with the background check itself.

    This issue is listed in the National Adjudicative Guidelines as being problematic in cases where there is evidence of “deliberate omission, concealment, or falsification of relevant facts from any personnel security questionnaire, personal history statement, or similar form used to conduct investigations, determine employment qualifications, award benefits or status, determine security clearance eligibility or trustworthiness…”

    It is very important for all who participate in the security clearance/background check process to be as forthcoming as possible. It’s best to assume that the personal data you are about to give when being interviewed or filling out forms is already known and that you are simply verifying the information that is already there or about to be collected.


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    About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News.

    Written by Team