Q: What is the difference between a suitability determination and a security clearance?

A:  A suitability determination is the federal government’s way to figure out whether a job candidate meets federal government criteria that allow the candidate to work for the federal government.  There are specific criteria, if present in a candidate, that might be used to deny the candidate from working for the federal government.  Some of these criteria are:  a history of bad conduct or carelessness during work; lawbreaking or lying; alcoholism; using illegal drugs; trying to forcibly overthrow the US Government; or if there’s a legal reason preventing the candidate from working in that particular federal government position (CFR Title 5, Part 731.202).  If a job candidate meets those disqualification criteria, disqualification is not automatic.  The federal government must use judgment to decide whether candidates have made reasonable efforts, such as social, drug, or alcohol rehabilitation, to overcome and diminish past behaviors.

A security clearance allows an individual, normally a US citizen, access to classified information after federal government determination and granting of the security clearance.  Only the federal government grants a security clearance to an individual after the federal government completes the individual’s background investigation, and the individual meets federal government character and trustworthiness standards (EO 12968 Sec. 3.1(b)).

A person may be deemed suitable for work for the federal government and not be granted a security clearance. If a person has passed a suitability screening with the federal government it does not indicate they will also be able to obtain a federal security clearance. Suitability determinations are often used by the federal government and government contractors in initial applicant screenings. If you do not pass suitability standards you will not be considered for the position.


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John Holst’s career path is as nonsensical and mad as the March Hare. In a series of what John thought were very trusting decisions, the United States Air Force let him babysit nuclear weapons, develop future officers, and then operate multi-billion dollar space systems. Then John re-enacted scenes from “Brazil” by joining the Missile Defense Agency, working as minutes-taker, configuration, project, mission, and test manager. When he’s not writing for Clearancejobs.com, he is putting his journalism degree skills to use as The Mad Spaceball.