I have discussed previously the national security risks associated with delaying the periodic reinvestigations period from five to six years for individuals holding a Top-Secret clearance, but what are the personal risks to clearance holders themselves?  With 725,000 background investigations in backlog, and timeliness taking three times longer than congressional mandates, certain policy nuances/adjustments have left many clearance holders wondering specifically how these changes could impact them when it comes to reciprocity.

Current policy and guidance used for making reciprocity decisions today are outlined in the following:

  • Presidential Executive Order 12968: “Access To Classified Information” –August 7, 1995

Signed by President Clinton, this Executive Order sets eligibility standards for agency heads in granting access to National Security Information and details the investigative and adjudicative requirements for each level of access. It also defines conditions for when reciprocity must be practiced and for when conditions allow for denial of reciprocity.

  • Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA) – December 17, 2004

Title III of IRTPA established statutory guidelines for reciprocity of security clearances. This act provides congressional direction that all legitimate government clearances are to be accepted and transferable between and among government agencies.

  • Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Memorandums to Executive Departments and Agencies: “Reciprocal Recognition of Existing Personnel Security Clearances” – December 12, 2005, July 17, 2006, and November 14, 2007

Signed by Clay Johnson, Deputy Director for Management, these three memorandums implemented guidance for uniform acceptance of compatible security clearances. The memorandums further clarified exceptions and introduced the Checklist of Permitted Exceptions to Reciprocity.

  • Presidential Executive Order 13467: “Reforming Processes Related to Suitability for Government Employment, Fitness for Contractor Employees, and Eligibility for Access to Classified National Security Information” – July 2, 2008

Signed by President Bush, this Executive Order established the Performance Accountability Council (PAC) chaired by the Deputy Director for Management, Office of Management and Budget. The PAC ensures alignment of security and suitability investigative and adjudicative processes. This Executive Order also established the Suitability Executive Agent and the Security Executive Agent. The Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) serves as the Suitability Executive Agent and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) serves as the Security Executive Agent.

  • Director of National Intelligence Memorandum: “Executive Order 13467 and reciprocal Recognition of Existing Personnel Security Clearances” – October 1, 2008

Signed by DNI J.M. McConnell, this memorandum focused on the DNI’s commitment as Security Executive Agent, in streamlining the process by which eligibility for access to classified national security information is determined. Workforce mobility is assured by continued success of inter-agency reciprocity of security clearances. Executive Order 13467 directs reciprocal recognition while ensuring cost-effective, timely and efficient protection of the national interest.

  • Director of National Intelligence Community Policy Guidance 704.4 (ICPG 704.4): “Reciprocity of Personnel Security Clearance and Access Determinations” – October 2, 2008

This policy signed by David Shedd, Deputy Director, provides DNI guidance on reciprocity within the Intelligence Community (IC) and defines those areas where reciprocity must be supported by IC element heads and amplifies those special considerations and exceptions to reciprocity that apply within the IC to protect intelligence methods and sources.

when your security clearance may not be eligible for reciprocity

The ODNI website provides examples when a security clearance “may not” be eligible for reciprocity and when gaining agencies will “most likely” require additional security clearance processing.

  • Your existing clearance was granted on an interim or temporary basis.
  • Your existing clearance was based on exception to standards.
  • The date of your last investigation, upon which your existing clearance is based, is older than seven years for Top Secret, 10 years for Secret, and 15 years for Confidential.
  • The position for which you are being considered requires a polygraph or a different type polygraph than you have taken in the past.
  • The position for which you are being considered has Special Access Program (SAP) requirements.
  • You are currently cleared at the Confidential or Secret level, and the position for which you are being considered requires a Top Secret clearance.

Personal Precautions to Consider When in PR Limbo

Most of the examples outlined by the ODNI are standard approaches to reciprocity and fall directly within policy guidelines. However, the move to operate outside the current standards by initiating Top Secret PRs in six versus five years has potentially placed a large number of clearance holders in a position where they may fall outside the seven-year window and not be eligible for reciprocity. With Top Secret periodic reinvestigations taking as long as 18 months to complete, many individual could easily exceed the investigation date upon which their existing clearance is based by more than seven years.  

Some actions to consider if you are an individual whose current clearance is based upon an investigation that exceeds seven years and you are considering changing jobs or taking a break in service.

  • Always take a personal interest in the status of your periodic reinvestigation. Have your security manager provide you regular updates to ensure the investigation is being processed.
  • If planning to change jobs (no break in service) make sure the sponsoring agency does not cancel or discontinue your PR. Talk to your current security manager, and future security manager to ensure the PR continues and the gaining agency agrees to take over sponsorship.
  • If considering a break in service, but plan to return back to a position requiring a clearance, talk to your security manager about the status of your background investigation, and determine what impacts the break in service might have on returning back to service. According to current policy, if your investigation is “within scope”, and your break in service is less than two years, you should be eligible for clearance reciprocity.

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Merton W. Miller is a retired Colonel and Federal Agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and former Senior Executive with the Federal Investigative Service and National Background Investigations Bureau. His duties assignments included tours as Security Advisor White House Military Office, Assistant Director Office of the Secretary of Defense Counterintelligence, Commander AFOSI Region 6, Director Counterintelligence Field Activity Counterintelligence Campaigns, Associate Director for the Federal Investigative Services, and Deputy Director for NBIB.