Not all security clearances are created equally. And not all things that seem like security clearances really grant eligibility to access classified information at all. A number of positions across the government are positions of public trust – while a public trust isn’t a security clearance, it does require filling out similar forms and going through a basic criminal and credit check.
An applicant for a position with the Bureau of Land Management reached out to ask why the position they’d applied for had been ‘upgraded’ from a position of public trust to a position requiring a Top Secret security clearance. The applicant was particularly concerned that the clearance upgrade was unnecessary, and may be creating costs and delays in processing.
What’s the Deal with Clearance Eligibility Upgrades?
It’s unclear why the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) specifically would be reclassifying positions. Several background investigators on the ClearanceJobsBlog forum noted that due to the relatively small number of investigations processed through BLM, they couldn’t see the reclassifications causing significant delays, as the applicants claimed. Others noted that the changes may be due to the government’s decision to switch to a three tier clearance model, rather than two tiers. Still others highlighted how positions are classified to the highest level of information the position may require access to. So, even if the day-to-day duties may not require access to TS information, if the position requires access to VIPs, foreign dignitary visits, or interaction with local law enforcement agencies, for instance, eligibility would be granted based on those (occasional) duties.
The issue of overclassification is a big one. But there are too sides to the coin – overclassification of documents, which costs money and creates administrative hurdles, and overclassification of people, which also costs money – but may or may not be better for national security depending upon your argument.
Given the critical shortage of cleared workers and the need to educate individuals on what critical information is and how to protect it, airing toward the higher classification required for the position may be the government’s best course of application. Of course, if you’re afraid you’re not eligible for the higher level of clearance, you may be better off staying with the position of public trust. While general eligibility is the same, issues will arise in a Top Secret clearance investigation that won’t in a public trust automated check.