Most federal agencies have three levels of security clearances. Confidential, secret and top secret. A confidential clearance may be grated based on a basic electronic records check. Both secret and top secret clearances require a more comprehensive background investigation. In addition, some classified information may be labeled as SCI and Special Access Programs. Specific approval is required to access this information.

While the Department of defense issues the vast majority of security clearances, some agencies have their own classification levels and procedures. The Department of Energy, for instance, issues ‘L’ and ‘Q’ access authorizations.

What are the criteria for access to classified information?

The adjudicative criteria to access classified information are the same for a secret or top secret security clearance. The level of security clearance will depend upon your ‘need-to-know.’ In an effort to reduce the risk of insider threats, the government has reduced the number of security clearances by approximately 20 percent over the past several years. Because top secret security clearance investigations are both more costly and open up more risks for potential insider threats, reduction efforts have focused on reducing access to the lowest possible level.

Your facility security officer should make it clear what level of security clearance you require prior to filling out your security clearance paperwork. An SF-85P is the standard form used for a confidential level security clearance. An SF-86 is used for both a secret or top secret security clearance investigation. Carefully complete each form. Read all fields carefully, as each form requires different reporting.

Classification levels are assigned to protect information – and limit access – appropriately. If you’ve previously held a security clearance but are unsure of your investigation date or details, you can request a copy. If you’ve obtained multiple security clearances through various agencies, it’s a good idea to keep track of your investigation dates. Your Cleared Network profile is a great place to record that information.

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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