The security clearance process actually consists of three phases: initiation, investigation and adjudication. While most of the emphasis is on the investigation phase of the security clearance process, adjudication is where the actual determination is made – and can also be the source of a lot of delays.

A recent comment on ClearanceJobsBlog asks if a three-year adjudication timeline for an intelligence community applicant is normal. While normal would not be the right word, it’s not unprecedented. That obviously leads to a few questions – what exactly is adjudication, and why could it take so long?

What is Adjudication?

Adjudication is the final, and in many cases shortest aspect of the security clearance process. Adjudication is the decision the sponsoring federal agency makes about granting clearance eligibility. The adjudicator’s decision is based on information gathered and verified in the course of the background investigation. All clearance eligibility determinations are made using adjudicative guidelines set force by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

Why Would Adjudication Take So Long?

Average adjudication timelines for Department of Defense/Industry applicants in the fourth quarter of 2021 were 31 days for a Top Secret clearance and 14 days for a Secret clearance. The intelligence community does not release its adjudication timelines, its processing times are slightly longer than the DoD, so it makes sense that adjudication timelines would be, as well.

A security clearance applicant doesn’t have much recourse if adjudication times run long, other than to contact or be in touch with the agency, or perhaps contact your member of congress if things run excessively long. The good news is if you enter into adjudication you have a good chance of a final determination…eventually. Some individuals wonder if there are too many negatives in your investigation, if you’ll never ‘crossover’ into the adjudication phase. But the investigation stage is a no-judgment zone – even if there are negative issues that arise, the case will still be moved into adjudication, where an adjudicator makes the clearance determination.

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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