Presidential security clearances are back in the news, with inquiring minds asking both what type of clearance eligibility a President-Elect Biden has has, along with what ongoing eligibility a President Trump might keep. When it comes to security clearances and presidential transitions, the most important thing to remember is that security policy is born out of executive orders, which means that clearance eligibility is the purview of the current sitting president. If the president wants to grant someone eligibility, that’s his or her right.

A major topic of debate when President Trump took office was whether or not he could have passed a traditional background investigation process, with his business investments and foreign entanglements. The answer is – it doesn’t matter. Presidents, members of congress, and other elected officials don’t go through a traditional background investigation process. The 13 adjudicative guidelines that apply to the typical security clearance holder do not apply to elected officials, including presidents – whether incoming or outgoing.

Continued Access to Classified Information

Whether or not former officials keep their eligibility and access to classified information is another issue more grounded in tradition than policy. It is common for outgoing presidents and officials to be ‘read in’ on issues and topics where their prior position and expertise are useful. This is at the discretion of the current sitting president. That means that any access to classified information a former president or government official obtains has to be granted – they can’t just walk into the CIA and say ‘brief me.’

Security clearance policy has seen significant shifts and improvements with the ushering in of Trusted Workforce 2.0. It’s likely those improvements will continue to advance under a new administration, but only time will tell. When it comes to security clearances and a new administration, however, the more important issues are around what security clearance policies may or may not change moving forward – not who has access to classified information and who doesn’t.

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Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email Interested in writing for Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer