When it comes to the term ‘security clearance’ there are probably as many misuses of the term as there are legitimate descriptions of the process. And it’s not the people that are largely to blame, it’s the policy – when it comes to security clearances, the term doesn’t really exist in government policy at all. When we talk about clearances conversationally, we’re really referring to that sexy term ‘eligibility to access classified information.’ And that classified information is further segmented into three levels – Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret. But since ‘eligibility to access classified information’ doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, we generally just say ‘security clearance.’

That can lead to a lot of ‘news’ articles about security clearances that don’t even refer to clearances at all. Several of those surround the credentials required to work at various jobs in support of national security, including all of the fast food service workers performing work across military facilities including the Pentagon. If you’re serving up Mexican pizzas at the Pentagon cafeteria or Starbucks at the CIA, do you really need a security clearance?

The short answer is – probably not. There are a number of positions located within the Pentagon (or other sensitive government facilities) that don’t require a security clearance. Many of these positions are positions of public trust, or may fall under Homeland Security Policy Directive-12, or HSPD-12 or involve a Personal Identity Verification (PIV) credentials (think the Common Access Cards needed to access government facilities).

For these positions, you’ve typically undergone some type of basic criminal and credit check and most likely drug testing or other employment verification processes – but you don’t actually have a security clearance, because your position doesn’t require access to classified information. There are other positions where an individual’s direct job (thinking cleaning a secure facility) may not require a security clearance per se, but due to proximity they can’t avoid it (you can’t really clean the hanger without seeing what is in the hangar) then a security clearance may be issued.

You might wonder if that Pentagon food service position could help you pivot more easily into a security clearance career down the road – stranger things have happened. If your position requires a Public Trust, as the roll-out of Continuous Vetting (CV) moves across the national security population, it certainly would make sense that your position as a trusted (food) worker may open doors to being a trusted (finance, security, administrative) worker. Improved clearance portability is just one aspect of Trusted Workforce 2.0, CV, and the move from five tiers of investigations to three.

A ‘security clearance’ isn’t always a clearance at all. When in doubt, consider if the position actually requires access to classified information – and what type of form you had to fill out to obtain the job.



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Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at ClearanceJobs.com. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email lindy.kyzer@clearancejobs.com. Interested in writing for ClearanceJobs.com? Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer