I remember back when I got my secret clearance in the late 1980s. It was my first security clearance and was necessary for my job and duty station in the Army at the time. More than anything I remember the pain of filling out the SF-86 by hand and trying to collect up years of data, addresses, phone numbers, etc. I remember thinking that they must make it this tough to discourage people from even trying to get a clearance. I figured it was the first line of defense in security clearances.
Another thing I remember is how long it took for it to be completed and adjudicated. It was more than 20 years ago, so I don’t remember the exact duration but as I recall it took around eight-to-ten months from the time I submitted my initial packets and when it was finally adjudicated.
Since that time I have been a reference for more Security Background Investigations (SBI) than I can even remember. Honestly I have lost count of the number of times I have sat across a table from an investigator, answering questions about someone’s background and what I knew about them.
Then several years back I was put in for a new and higher level clearance based on my job at the time. The initial form was still a pain, because of a multitude of new data I had to gather up, but now it was on a computer and could be saved and re-started. I could research the data I needed to collect and then log on and fill out the form some more. I was amazed and thankful at how much the process had progressed since the first time.
I was even more amazed at how quickly the entire process went. My initial clearance in the 1980s took around 10 months. Now here I was even getting an even higher clearance with more stringent requirements and I went from packet submission to adjudication in four months.
A number of reforms, in addition to the electronic SF-86, have helped to speed up the process. Ten Department of Defense Adjudication Facilities have moved from locations across the country to one central facility in Fort Meade, Md. While initially that may slow the process, long-term it looks to streamline and shorten investigation times. Today, OPM security clearance processing averages 66 days – that’s a far cry from the months it used to take.
So if you are going through the process right now or have recently, know that even though it seems painful, it could be worse. Trust me, it was much tougher back in the day.
Does anyone out there remember the old, paper and pen security clearance process? Share your memories – or horror stories (lost paperwork, missing records and FSO snafus, come to mind) here.
Troy is an Army brat and the father of combat medic. He is also a retired Infantry Senior NCO with multiple combat tours, in addition to several stateside deployments. Troy retired from the Army not long after switching careers from the Information Technology Consulting industry to becoming a Contractor for the US Army. He serves on several task-forces and enjoys still visiting and working with soldiers every day. Troy is also a recognized and multiple-award winning military blogger who writes at www.bouhammer.com, and a familiar person in many social media circles.