Recent news about the Department of Defense eliminating its backlog of security clearance cases is music to the ears of many security clearance applicants. Unfortunately, DoD is only one of several dozen clearance-granting entities across the federal government, a number of which are notorious for adjudications that move at glacial speed.

As a result, rarely a week goes by without someone calling my office with this question: My security clearance adjudication is taking forever…is there something you can do about it?”

If there was a secret sauce for speeding up security clearance adjudications, I’d be happy to share it with you. The cold, hard truth, however, is that unless you happen to be a high-level political appointee or you’ve led a very vanilla existence for the past ten years, there is no such magical formula.

Frustration and anxiety with a clearance adjudication that seems to drag on endlessly is certainly understandable. But managing expectations is also important: what is “normal” in the realm of adjudicative timelines at your particular agency and at what point is it worth the effort to start pushing the envelope (at the risk of being seen as a pest)?

Understand, first of all, that the length of time it takes to adjudicate your case is partially predicated on the nature of the issues in your background. A relatively clean case (or, ironically, a horrendous – “this person is never getting a clearance” one) is much quicker to adjudicate than a case involving borderline issues that must be carefully assessed within the context of the “whole person”. These more time-consuming cases can include psychological issues, a complicated financial history, or voluminous foreign contacts, travel or entanglements. If any of this sounds like you, your case may be on the back-burner for a while so that an adjudicator can push through a number of less complex cases and meet productivity metrics established by his or her employing agency.

If you’re out of patience, just about the only thing that might get your case some attention is a congressional inquiry. Every member of congress has constituent affairs staff members whose primary job is to help constituents navigate the federal bureaucracy. Sometimes a letter from your congressional representative is what it takes to finally get your case dislodged from the security clearance abyss.

Ultimately, what constitutes a “long time” to adjudicate a security clearance case is all relative and depends on the agency in question, the issues in your background, and the particular adjudicator assigned to your case. Taking a “zen” approach to the process is probably the best thing you can do for your sanity.


This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

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Security Clearance Attorney Sean M. Bigley represents clients worldwide in security clearance denials and revocations. He is a former investigator for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. For more information, please visit