There are two important roles governing the protection of America’s secrets and who gets access to what, and they center around policy and process. At, we frequently talk about the nuts and bolts of the security clearance process and procedures for the Department of Defense – which processes more than 95% of all security clearance applications. But if you are applying with the Intelligence Community, it’s worth noting that while the adjudicative guidelines and many aspects of the process are the same (particularly the policy), the process – including processing times and how long it takes to obtain a security clearance – can be vastly different.

The IC is notoriously close-lipped about many aspects of their background investigations process. While they are required to submit certain reports – including timeliness updates – to congress, while the DoD typically releases those figures, the IC generally doesn’t give an agency-by-agency breakdown of timelines. (In their defense, the DoD figures generally only breakdown between industry and all other applicants). What you can generally trust is that the IC clearance timelines will be lengthier than DoD’s, and if history is any indication, the CIA often has some of the lengthiest time-to-hire in the IC.

Just like DoD, however, the past several years have ushered in improvements in clearance processing that have enabled the IC to improve timelines. They’re still not where they’d like to be, according to leadership, but the latest figures released by the National Counterintelligence and Security Agency show a downward trend from the last updates given on Capitol Hill.


ic processing times

Currently, it takes 287 days to process a Top Secret clearance and 204 days to process a Secret clearance. Those numbers cover initiation through adjudication. If the numbers seem fast compared to your personal experience applying with the IC, it’s worth noting they report only the 90% of fastest investigations, throwing out figures for the outliers.

How to Speed Up Your IC Security Clearance Investigation

Many individuals assume they’re at the mercy of the background investigations process, but there are steps an individual can take to speed up the security clearance process. One of the first steps is to submit a clean security clearance application. An IC background investigation is less likely to rely on automated checks and more likely to require direct verification. Failing to fill out references or submit the right information on the form can set your background investigation back significantly. Don’t phone in your reference checks – expect them to be queried, and give them a heads-up to ensure you have their proper contact information.

Next, don’t be afraid to program manage your own process – but do it carefully. Due to the lengthiness of the process, it’s not uncommon for a background investigation to literally go missing on the job. If you – and your references – don’t hear anything for months, it’s okay to follow-up. Sometimes the squeaky wheel does get the grease. But the super annoying harassing Secret Squirrel doesn’t – so walk this line carefully.


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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