There are three levels of security clearance – Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret. As a part of the Trusted Workforce 2.0 effort, there will also soon be just three tiers of investigations. Under the new reduced tiers, the investigations for Secret and Public Trust become basically identical, with a heightened investigation for Top Secret clearances.
It’s not uncommon for a clearance holder who has a Public Trust to be submitted for a position requiring Secret level access, or for an individual with a Secret clearance to need Top Secret access. Some clearance holders wonder why their company may be asking them to upgrade their trust, or obtain a higher level of clearance. The answer boils down to two things – company need and contract requirements. The position the employee is currently in may have been reclassified to a higher level clearance. Or a more likely issue is that the company is looking to move the employee into another position entirely, requiring a higher level of access. While clearance processing times have improved, the reality is it still takes upward of 300 days to process a new Top Secret security clearance. It is often much quicker for a company to simply upgrade a current employee into the role – particularly if the individual already has a clearance with the agency in question.
Reasons to Say No to an Upgrade in Trust
If your company asks you to upgrade your clearance, you may want to say no, however. While the adjudicative guidelines are the same, the investigation depths are different. A Secret or Public Trust (Tier 1 and Tier 2) investigations are largely automated. A Top Secret clearance investigation on the other hand requires a more in-depth investigation, which includes verifying information and interviewing references – including those not listed on your SF-86.
If you were completely honest in your initial investigation, you likely have a decent chance of being eligible for an upgrade. If you were dishonest, however, and an issue is uncovered that you don’t reveal, it may sink your security clearance chances. Passage of time is one of the best ways to mitigate any issues, so if there is a skeleton that you didn’t hide – but that does come up under a more rigorous investigation, you can likely mitigate the issue.
You can certainly ask to not have your clearance upgraded. But given the demand for Top Secret clearances, it is certainly a career advantage to have your clearance upgraded. If the position you’re in transitions to a higher level of eligibility and you’re unwilling to go for the upgrade, your company will either have to move you into a different position – or you’ll find yourself without a job.