The statistics show that an incredibly small percentage of security clearance holders are actually denied their security clearances after applying for eligibility. But those numbers may be misleading. ClearanceJobs recently discussed common security clearance misconceptions with Dan Bradley, a security specialist and former background investigator and adjudicator who is now the principal owner of DC Security Consultants. In unpacking the security clearance process and common pitfalls, one common problem continually rose to the top in the conversation: Due to hearsay, many otherwise qualified applicants will simply no longer consider themselves viable for a cleared position and limit their professional options to non-cleared positions.

Facility Security Officers Play an Integral Role in the Cleared World

Jill: Can you explain the value of FSOs and what to keep in mind when talking to one so as not to fall into “street adjudication” before even applying for a clearance?

Dan: Every occupation has varying standards for employees. The FSO position is no different. The hiring process usually begins with a recruiter, but once a candidate without an active or current clearance has a tentative job offer (TJO), the security clearance application process can begin. FSOs normally are not part of the recruitment/hiring process. They usually enter the picture only after a TJO has been signed by the applicant. Under no circumstances should an applicant complete a security questionnaire (SF85/SF85P/SF86) until a formal TJO has been executed between both parties.

However, some FSOs may use the security questionnaires to “screen out” applicants during the recruitment process. They will see some listed derogatory or negative information on an applicant’s security questionnaire and decide for themselves whether or not this applicant has a chance of getting a clearance or not. The problem is that there are many mitigating factors out there that are applied in the adjudicating cases.

The main thing for job applicants to convey to potential employers is that you are “clearable.” As an applicant, you explain adverse or negative information to the background investigator during your Subject Interview (SI). The background investigator types up the applicant’s responses in the Report of Investigation (ROI). There may be 1 ROI or 15 ROIs that go with your case; it all depends.  Your investigation is completed when all “lead items” have been accounted for, including the lead items that were “written off.” Your entire case is then pulled together and sent for review to the adjudicator. The adjudicator sees everything: computer checks, all record checks, all reference interviews, etc. Most importantly, adjudicators will see your responses from your SI. FSOs will never see any of this information.

The best advice for all Public Trust, Secret, or Top Secret applicants is this:  Consider the source of the information that you’ve heard. Hearsay and rumor can contribute to misinformation about the clearance process. Erroneous information about background investigations, adjudications, and the security clearance process spreads very easily.

Top Misinformation That Keeps Candidates From Cleared Jobs

Jill: What would you say is the top misinformation about clearances that keeps people back from applying for jobs that require a clearance?

Dan: While I hear a lot, there are certain concerns that consistently rise to the top.

  1. I have too much negative or adverse information in my background. Many issues can be sorted out, and some things will just take a little bit more time in the clearance process.
  2. FSOs and background investigators do not determine your clearance. Let the process handle itself in the paperwork. FSOs are only supposed to make sure it’s fully filled out. If a job offer is rescinded after submitting an SF-86 to the FSO without submitting to government, then the process isn’t working correctly.
  3. Reapplying again after a Revocation or Denial: If you were denied years ago, it doesn’t mean that you’ll be denied later on. You just need to wait one year to reapply if your denial reasons are resolved or there’s progress. Show progress but don’t come back with the exact same issues.
  4. What records are going to be checked? FBI, name, OPM records, DoD records, talk to references and prior locations. But they’re not checking browsing history, etc. Foreign travel needs to be listed. The timing of clearance processing depends on how much you’ve traveled or places lived, etc. Consider the source when someone tells you what is being checked.
  5. Transferring clearances (Reciprocity): For some, it’s an administrative switch, but for others, it will take a little bit more, depending on procedures, which can lead to scattered castles and backups. It’s doable, but not always done in practice.
  6. Termination or Quit Without Notice Lead to Clearance Revocation? If you leave a previous job without notice, normally, they’ll just disown in JPAS. But rarely does this result in an incident report. Give the two weeks, but if this was your past, it’s not a game changer.
  7. U.S. government watching my Facebook and other social media posts/pictures? It’s not an official lead to check browsing history because it would need a warrant. However, IC agencies can incorporate questions in a polygraph. Social monitoring is allowable with recent changes. If you put it out there, it’s public information. It’s not routine though.  If you put something out there in public, it’s fair game – especially in the IC realm.

Don’t Fall Prey to Misinformation

When it comes to supporting national security, the security clearance process is not to be taken lightly. However, while your friend may have found the process to be a bumpy ride, it doesn’t mean that the same will happen to you. If you want to work in the cleared industry, it is important to remain watchful and careful; however, don’t let people street adjudicate you away from applying for a cleared position. Do your homework on finding an organization that will be a good fit for your skills and can support you in the clearance process. And then let the adjudicator do the work.


Dan Bradley is Principal Consultant/Owner of DC Security Clearance Consultants, LLC (DCSCC).  DCSCC provides first-hand knowledge and expertise in Background Investigations and Adjudications (DoD CAC & PIV Credentialing, Suitability & Fitness Determinations/Positions of Trust, Collateral Security Eligibilities and SCI & SAP accesses).  DCSCC also provides Industrial Security guidance and advice to Cleared Defense Contractors (CDCs) in the National Industrial Security Program (NISP).

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.