Is it easy to get a security clearance? It depends on who you ask. Among the un-cleared population there can be a misconception that ‘anyone’ can get a clearance, based on the millions of clearance-holders out there. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper himself criticized the size of the cleared workforce in 2013, in a memo that called for reducing the number of individuals with access to intelligence. He’s done it, based on recently released figures that show a 12 percent decline in the size of the cleared workforce.

But those individuals who have gone through the process understand the significant headaches involved in both an initial security clearance background investigation as well as subsequent periodic reinvestigations. Obtaining a security clearance is no easy task, and not everyone who applies for one will be granted access.

The same ODNI report that outlined reductions in the size of the cleared workforce provided insight into the rate of denials within the intelligence community, as well as the reasons behind significant delays in security clearance processing time.

Rejections and Suitability Screening

The NSA denied the greatest number of applicants– 9.2 percent. The NRO and CIA denied the next greatest number, at 7.4 and 6.5 percent. These numbers may strike you as relatively low.  There’s a reason for that. The number of actual clearance denials remains low, particularly in the intelligence community, because of stringent suitability requirements that often weed out unqualified applicants before they ever reach security clearance processing.

Most intelligence community jobs and some federal jobs are ‘excepted service’ positions. This means an applicant may be denied the position due to employment suitability – and the government has no requirement to provide a specific reason. In this case an applicant wasn’t denied a clearance, but they were denied employment after already submitting a security clearance application.

When it comes to the factors that delay clearances, multiple issues with adjudicative criteria is the most significant cause of significant delays, according to ODNI’s 2014 report. This means a candidate may have debt, drugs, emotional issues, foreign family members – some combination of one of these 13 guidelines used to establish eligibility. Of the single issues causing significant security clearance delays, foreign influence and financial issues are one and two on the list.

Hope in the Whole-Person Concept

Does this mean every candidate who has declared bankruptcy or has credit card debt will be denied a clearance? Or that anyone with a foreign-born spouse is un-clearable? Not at all. A critical element in the security clearance adjudicative process is the ‘whole-person’ concept. That means an applicant is evaluated based on the whole host of criteria provided, including any mitigating information. If you had significant credit card debt caused by medical issues, but then contacted your creditors to set up a payment plan, your situation will be considered more favorably than someone with a shopping habit.

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Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email Interested in writing for Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer