A security clearance really refers to eligibility to access classified information – and you can’t get a clearance (or access) on your own. In order to obtain a security clearance, you must first obtain a job that requires one. Your employer – either the federal government or a government contractor – will walk you through the process of obtaining a clearance, after they’ve decided they want you for the job. Step one – find a job. Step two, obtain a clearance.

types of Security Clearance

There are three main types of security clearance:

The Federal Investigative Standards currently still involves a 5 tiered system:

Tier 1 NACI Low Risk, Non-Sensitive, including HSPD-12 Credentialing None None SF85
Tier 2 MBI Moderate Risk Public Trust (MRPT) Tier 2R NACLC SF85P
Tier 3 NACLC & ANACI Non-Critical Sensitive National Security, including Secret & “L” access eligibility Tier 3R NACLC SF86
Tier 4 BI High Risk Public Trust (HRPT) Tier 4R PRI SF85P
Tier 5 SSBI Critical Sensitive and Special Sensitive National Security, including Top Secret, SCI, and “Q” access eligibility Tier 5R SSBI-PR & PPR SF86

As a part of the Trusted Workforce 2.0 overhaul, the investigative tiers will be reduced from five to three, with the first and second and third and fourth tiers consolidated, so the investigative tiers will more directly align with the three levels of security clearance. The updated investigation tiers are Public Trust, Secret, and Top Secret.

Who Can Get a Security Clearance

To obtain a security clearance you must be sponsored by a government agency for a position which requires access to classified information. You must be a U.S. citizen to obtain a security clearance.

Many individuals are under the false impression they get to ‘keep’ their clearance after they separate from military service or leave a cleared job. It’s important to note that at any time, a clearance is under the purview of the government. And what the government giveth, the government may take away. Policy dictates that a clearance is ‘current’ for a period of two years after leaving service. If you move out of a cleared job and into another within that period, your clearance can be easily reinstated – assuming your investigation hasn’t expired.

Periodic reinvestigations and continuous vetting

A key aspect of Trusted Workforce 2.0 reforms is the move from episodic reinvestigations of security clearance eligibility to a continuous vetting model. There are currently approximately 2.2 million individuals enrolled in the Department of Defense continuous vetting program. As the National Background Investigation System continues to move forward and the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency overhauls the IT that underpins the personnel security program, we can expect enrollment in the government’s continuous vetting system to meet full enrollment. Currently, requirements for periodic reinvestigations are still on the books, but with CV accomplishing the same thing, in the future clearance holders may want to establish their CV status before they leave a cleared job and look to jump into another.

The good news is that regardless of policy changes concerning CV and periodic reinvestigations, having held a clearance previously is still a major advantage, even if your prior clearance has expired. And with clearance processing times seeing significant improvement, it can now take just a matter of days or weeks to obtain an interim security clearance.

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