When the Department of Homeland Security was erected in the aftermath of 9/11, its Office of Security was given oversight of the personnel security clearance process. In 2005, the Office of Security, Personnel Security Division was directed to create department-wide policies and procedures. The effectiveness of the program has remained controversial in the years since its creation (like much of the Department itself), with the Office of Inspector General issuing a report in 2009 offering 20 recommendations.
Like all federal agencies, DHS assigns security clearances to the position, not the person. Qualified government contractors or government employees will be considered for federal security clearance based on their application to perform a job within the department. Employment will be offered contingent on the ability to obtain a security clearance. Government employees with the agency will be asked to accept a tentative job offer but must then obtain a security clearance before receiving an official offer.
Security clearances take, on average, three months to complete. Some DHS components adjudicate their own clearances, others use the Office of Personnel Management and reimburse them for related expenses. Those who contract investigations themselves typically have faster processing times (sometimes as little as a week). That said, the process varies greatly by agency and level of security clearance, as well as an applicant’s personal history. Financial considerations are one of the biggest red flags in the security clearance process. Within DHS there is variance on what level of debt is considered concerning, and will delay the clearance process. The U.S. Coast Guard has a maximum bad debt of $3,000, Customs and Border Patrol a maximum of $5,000, and FEMA and maximum of $10,000 for debt that is three or more years old. Note that these maximums don’t prohibit employment, but they will require mitigation in your application.
It is important to remember that most individuals will not be reimbursed for time spent awaiting clearance adjudication.
All full-time DHS employees receive a background investigation and adjudication. As of 2009, 70,000 of DHS’ 208,000 employees required access to classified information. The department uses the online eQIP system to process applications. One of the primary complaints by security officers in the 2009 IG report were delays in completing required paperwork by applicants. If you’re applying for a position requiring a security clearance, be sure to complete your information in a timely matter (ideally within one-week but no more than two). OPM electronically rejects or returns inaccurate eQIP applications – so you’ll want to monitor your account and update with corrections, if necessary. Don’t expect a personnel officer from the department to contact you about errors.
Key things to keep in mind:
1. DHS operates its own personnel security program. Security clearance reciprocity is granted between agencies, but there may be delays and new investigations may need to be completed if the transfer is not lateral.
2. e-QIP will be used to process your security clearance application. Complete it quickly, but accurately.
3. Offers of employment will be contingent on obtaining a federal security clearance. If you’re not confident you’ll be granted a clearance, keep your options open as you await adjudication.