Security clearances are conducted on a fee-for-service basis by (for now) the National Background Investigations Bureau. And while the job is set to move to the Defense Security Service (DSS), the fee-for-service model is expected to continue.

According to Federal Investigative Notice (FIN) 17-04 issued last March, the costs for all five tiers of investigations and reinvestigations has increased slightly from last year. Shown below is a breakdown of the investigative costs and increases for 2018:

Standard Handling FY 2017 FY2018 Increase+
Tier 1 (Low Risk-no clearance) $176 $194 $18
Tier 2 (Moderate Risk-Public Trust) $1,515 $1,550 $35
Tier 2R $1,204 $1,261 $57
Tier 3 (Noncritical Sensitive-Secret) $421 $433 $12
Tier 3R $397 $417 $20
Tier 4 (High Risk-Public Trust) $4,051 $4,218 $167
Tier 4R $2,565 $2,646 $81
Tier 5 (Critical or Special Sensitive-Top Secret and/or SCI) $5,389 $5,596 $207
Tier 5R $2,951 $3,065 $114


There is a common misconception that security clearances cost thousands of dollars and that those costs are paid for by government contractors. There are obvious onboarding costs, and thousands of dollars are spent maintaining a personnel security program, but the actual cost of obtaining a security clearance investigation may be relatively low. And all of those costs are paid for by government agencies.

Clearance costs are released – and go up – every year. They’re also divided into tiers – Tier 1 investigations aren’t even clearances, they’re simple automated checks for low-risk positions. Tier 5 investigations are the investigations at the Top Secret level and require the most work – and the most cost.

A Secret investigation in 2018 cost $433.

A Top Secret investigation in 2018 cost $5,596.

Why the huge difference? A Secret investigation can be conducted primarily via automated checks. In contrast, a Top Secret investigation requires a significant amount of field work – that requires personnel costs, efforts coordinating data and information, and hours of work.

The time and cost of obtaining a security clearance means it is a valuable asset. When you consider a security clearance career, consider how valuable the credential will be to your future career prospects.

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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