The security clearance process can be difficult to understand, whether you’re an applicant first applying for a personnel security clearance or a company looking to do cleared work for the government. That’s why Jeffrey Bennett wrote the Insider’s Guide to the Security Clearance process. Learn more from Bennett from a live Q & A hosted on the ClearanceJobs Facebook page.

 

The popularity of Bennett’s book shows how much information really is needed about the clearance process. People have many questions about their clearance – what it takes to get it and what it takes to keep it. Bennett began his process by writing security certification books, and then as people started reading, they started sending him questions about the security clearance process. As he recognized the confusion about what can and cannot be shared, he realized that the best way to be heard was to write it all down. Bennett’s book also helps to cut through the misinformation and misunderstandings that surround the security clearance process.

Don’t Count Yourself Out of a Security Clearance Before You Apply

Bennett says, “Never let your past prevent you from applying for a security clearance job. Don’t let your lack of understanding, prevent you from applying for that job. And most of all, don’t let the fact that you don’t have a clearance, prevent you from applying for a security clearance job or even, expanding the clearance to facility clearances. If you want to bid on a classified contract, don’t let the fact that you don’t have a security clearance stop you from that. Cause there are processes in place. ”

If you have a valuable skill that a cleared defense contractor or the government needs, they will hire you for that skill. If you don’t have the clearance, it is possible that they will put you in a job that you can work while waiting for that security clearance to come through. Other experts agree that candidates should not “weed themselves out” of the security process when it comes to marijuana policies and rules. So, we’re saying there’s a chance for you to obtain a security clearance. There are processes in place that investigators and adjudicators will consider, so don’t stop from applying.

Document, Save Everything, And Always Self Report

The time to work on your security clearance is before you apply for it. The paperwork doesn’t really take that long, but the research required to complete the paperwork can be a beast. The process will be smoother if you organize your information before you even launch the program. Identify your references and addresses from the past seven years first. Of course, it’s always a good idea to keep a copy of your application and documentation in a safety deposit box. Put together your own records and make sure you can access the information you need.

Change in life is inevitable, but clearance holders need to remember to self report life changes. If you’re getting married or traveling out of the country, don’t forget to notify your FSO. Every single time, every move you make, you need to self report some things. Drinking or drug use also tend to trip people up when it comes to self reporting. Once records get pulled, prior events will be exposed. It’s always better to tell the story yourself. There are security clearance lawyers available too who can help you report in the best possible way. So, be sure to check in with them. Bennett notes that despite prior issues, a clearance is still possible due to the whole person concept; however, the issue grows bigger when there’s a failure to report it.

Getting a clearance and keeping your clearance

And just a reminder: the clearance holder doesn’t have to pay for the clearance – the government does. This is in place so that we don’t have fraud or an ethics issues. So, the only way to get a clearance is to have a contract that requires it. It verifies and supports this whole idea that a security clearance is inherently a government function. Access to classified information is based on need to know. Getting a clearance is not a right. It’s a privilege.

While life in the cleared world isn’t James Bond type stuff, it’s still important to keep it protected so that the U.S. can keep its technological edge. Once you get your clearance, there’s work on the other side of the process in order to maintain it. You’ve been selected to get a security clearance because you are trustworthy. You’ve proven that you’re capable of getting that security clearance and protecting classified information, so you have to switch gears to make sure you keep that up. People are going to be looking at you and assessing you. You’re responsible also for assessing yourselves and self-reporting. If they find something that you didn’t tell them, that could be considered lying or fraud depending on the reason why you didn’t tell them.

Key differences between Adjudication and Investigation

Bennett explained that the investigators are there to take your SF-86 and start looking. It gets sent from the FSO to the appropriate government agency where they conduct the investigation. They will look into your past, pull the records, and get the facts gathered. It’s comparable to lawyers before a trial, a civil trial, or a legal trial where they put their cases together and present it to the judge. Now the adjudicator is the judge, and they are going to make decisions based solely on the national security and the impact of national security. They’re going to weigh that whole person concept. The FSO and the investigators don’t make a judgment. The adjudicators make that decision on whether or not to award a security clearance based on what they know. And sometimes they may not have enough information and, and that’s up to the applicant because there is no defense lawyer there. The applicant is responsible for putting all that information up front in the SF-86 documentation. However, there is a process where the applicant can appeal the ruling – especially if you just needed to add more information.

Changes and Growth in the Security Clearance Process

We kind of make fun of the government oftentimes for being pretty slow in terms of movement and in a lot of ways, they are. The national security framework is from 1947, but a lot of the policies are changing. We’ve moved from the paper based SF-86 to eQIP, to eApp. Bennett remembers a time when he had to fill out the SF-86 from scratch every time. Just because something was there yesterday doesn’t mean it will be there tomorrow.

The past year has been almost surprising in terms of the improvements that have been made in processing times and in the clearance process and the overhaul that they’re doing for Trusted Workforce 2.0. It’s a pleasant surprise that the government is looking at streamlining the process, which shows that they took the issue seriously, said Bennett.

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Lindy Kyzer is the editor of ClearanceJobs.com. She loves the NISPPAC, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email lindy.kyzer@clearancejobs.com. Interested in writing for ClearanceJobs.com? Learn more here.