With full employment across the tech sector and a strong commercial market, some security clearance holders are wondering if the hassles of keeping and maintaining a security clearance are truly worth it. With one to two-year waits common for Top Secret security clearance investigations, some applicants wonder what happens if they abandon their investigation mid-stream.

How Security Clearances are initiated

Security clearance investigations are initiated by a Facility Security Officer (FSO) or a security staff member. The FSO initiates the security clearance request through the Defense Security Services (DSS) and provides a link for the employee to complete the Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions. The FSO executes this process for initial security clearance requests, as well as requests for security clearance reinvestigations.

As with on boarding, there is also a process to stop an investigation, or remove access to out process an employee from the organization. When a security clearance is no longer required, the FSO removes the access and updates the information through DSS.

When a cleared employee leaves an organization, the FSO will take the appropriate action to remove the cleared employee from their organization, allowing a gaining employer to pick up that cleared employee. If the employee does not go to another organization where he requires the clearance, their clearance will be accessible for two years before a new investigation is required.

But what happens when an employee under investigation leaves before the investigation is complete?

According to DSS Office of Public affairs, when the individual leaves the company, a loss of jurisdiction is initiated.  At that time, the investigation stops. Whether the investigation can be opened at a later date depends on timing. For example, perhaps the frustrated applicant decides after a year or so to apply for a job at a CDC. If hired, the FSO initiates the investigation process again.

This can be interpreted to mean that if the employee leaves the company that initiated the clearance investigation and joins an organization that requires the clearance immediately, their investigation may continue as soon as the new organization enters the employee into the system.

However, this may not be the same in the case of an employee under a security clearance investigation who leaves the organization and does not immediately join a company that requires a clearance.

Security Clearance Portability and Improvements Ahead

This may be one of the issues that current clearance reform efforts will attempt to resolve with Trusted Workforce 2.0. With the Trusted Workforce 2.0 and the clearance portability factor and ‘trusted verifier’ concept, the idea is that information gathered in previous investigations will remain accessible for future use.

Certainly with the backlog in security clearance investigations, some employees awaiting investigations to be complete are not working the jobs they were hired to do. Large companies can absorb these employees and keep them engaged in other work until they are awarded interim or final clearances. Until then, they cannot perform on classified work and may become frustrated and seek employment in other areas.

Hopefully, these issues will be mitigated with upcoming changes in investigation jurisdiction, Trusted Workforce 2.0, and the results of studies to reduce the backload and streamline the investigation process.

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Jeffrey W. Bennett is a security consultant with SFPC, SAPPC, ISOC, ISP certifications. He maintains a security blog and newsletter and is the author of many security books including DoD Security Clearance and Contracts Guidebook-What Cleared Contractors Need to Know About Their Need to Know, The Insider’s Guide to Security Clearances, and books on security certification. Visit his website www.redbikepublishing.com for more information.