When the Department of Homeland Security was erected in the aftermath of 9/11, its Office of Security was given oversight of the personnel security clearance process. In 2005, the Office of Security, Personnel Security Division was directed to create department-wide policies and procedures. In addition to overseeing its own personnel security program, DHS also has oversight of the federal and government contractor credentialing process through Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD) 12. HSPD 12 creates a common standard for issuing access to secure facilities.
Like all federal agencies, DHS assigns security clearances to the position, not the person. Qualified government contractors or government employees will be considered for federal security clearance based on their application to perform a job within DHS. Employment is offered contingent on the ability to obtain a security clearance. Government employees with the agency are asked to accept a tentative job offer but must then obtain a security clearance before receiving an official offer.
Security clearances take, on average, three months to complete. Some DHS components adjudicate their own clearances, others use the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) and reimburse them for related expenses. Those who contract investigations themselves typically have faster processing times (sometimes as little as a week). That said, the process varies greatly by agency and level of security clearance, as well as an applicant’s personal history.
Financial considerations are one of the biggest red flags in the security clearance process. Within DHS there is variance on what level of debt is considered concerning, and will delay the clearance process. A 2009 DHS Inspector General report on the clearance process noted the U.S. Coast Guard has a maximum bad debt of $3,000, Customs and Border Patrol a maximum of $5,000, and FEMA and maximum of $10,000 for debt that is three or more years old. Note that these maximums don’t prohibit employment, but require mitigation in an application.
All full-time DHS employees receive a background investigation and adjudication. As of 2009, 70,000 of DHS’ 208,000 employees required access to classified information. The department uses the online eAPP system to process applications. One of the primary complaints by security officers in a 2009 IG report were delays in completing required paperwork by applicants. If you’re applying for a position requiring a security clearance, be sure to complete your information in a timely matter (ideally within one-week but no more than two).
Key things to keep in mind when applying for a DHS clearance:
1. DHS operates its own personnel security program. Security clearance reciprocity is granted between agencies, but there may be delays and new investigations may need to be completed if the transfer is not lateral.
2. eApp will be used to process your security clearance application. Complete it quickly, but accurately.
3. Offers of employment will be contingent on obtaining a federal security clearance. If you’re not confident you’ll be granted a clearance, keep your options open as you await adjudication.
This article was updated for accuracy in 2021.