Until recently, the vast majority of security clearance investigations were conducted by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). A recent executive order transferred that authority to the Department of Defense’s Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA). In what is confusing to some security clearance applicants, neither may be the agency issuing your clearance.
There is a difference between conducting a background investigation and issuing a security clearance. The actual clearance determinations are made by the agency issuing you a clearance. DCSA (and its predecessor, OPM’s National Background Investigations Bureau) – are investigations providers. They provide the information necessary to make a security clearance determination, but they don’t award the clearances themselves.
There was similar confusion last year in regards to the White House security clearance process. While the FBI conducts investigations on behalf of the White House, the White House security office makes the adjudicative decision.
Another confusing aspect for government contractors is the fact that your direct employer is not the one awarding your security clearance, or determining if you’re eligible to access classified information. Security clearances can only be issued by the federal government. That’s why some job offers are contingent on an applicant’s ability to obtain a security clearance. A contractor may want to hire you, but if you’re unable to get the clearance issued to you by the government agency the contractor is supporting, they can’t put you to work.
And while DCSA will soon be conducting the majority of investigations, that doesn’t mean it’s responsible for the overall number of individuals with security clearances, or who is issued a security clearance at all. If you’re going to be working for the State Department, the State Department adjudicates your clearance. If you’re working for the Department of Homeland Security, it’s DHS. So, in true government vernacular, when it comes to who issues security clearances, the answer truly is – it depends.