Many of us have a passing familiarity with the federal security clearance process steps. We’ve been through it, answering form questions, and subjected ourselves and our friends to rigorous interviews, only to get the dubious privilege of having a security clearance so we could perform escort duty and classified document inventory. But did you know that, as with grief, there are five stages to the security clearance process? Did you even know there were stages in the security clearance process?
The five stages of the security clearance process are: pre-investigation, investigation, adjudication, appeal, and reinvestigation. Most of us a familiar with the last and fifth stage: reinvestigation. Anyone who has a clearance goes through a periodic reinvestigation to maintain their clearance. The timing of the reinvestigation depends on the level of access an individual has, as well as the federal agency the individual works for.
Preinvestigation is the determination a federal agency makes about whether access to classified information is needed by the individual to do the required work. A security clearance, while granted to an individual, is attached to a position. A federal agency must determine the need for access to classified information. If it’s required, then the individual must fill out and submit the Standard Form (SF)-86. Which leads to stage two: investigation.
Investigation is very simple. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) appoints the investigator, who uses an applicant’s filled out SF-86 as a starting point, and starts digging into the applicant’s background. The length of this investigation can depend on the level of security clearance access required. If the investigator finds nothing “interesting” in an individual’s background, the next, and third, step is: adjudication.
Adjudication is the decision the sponsoring federal agency makes about whether to grant a security clearance to the applicant or not. The sponsoring agency will base this decision on the information verified by the background investigator during the investigation stage. If an applicant is granted a security clearance, then the individual will eventually deal with the fifth and last stage of the whole security clearance process: re-investigation. But sometimes the fourth stage kicks in: appeals.
The appeals stage comes into play if for some reason the sponsoring agency decides during the adjudication stage not to grant a clearance to an applicant a security clearance. The appeals stage allows for the applicant to appeal the unfavorable decision and perhaps be granted a reconsideration for security clearance access.
Periodic reinvestigations (PRs) are conducted every ten years for secret security clearances and every five years for top secret security clearances. New changes are proposing continuous monitoring of cleared professionals. Think of it like an enhanced PR, with automated checks of thinks like criminal records and credit reports.