National security policies and implementation strategies are based on executive orders and enforced and influenced by legislative actions. The Security Executive Agent, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) creates specific policies that are implemented across federal government agencies including the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and intelligence agencies. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), acts as the suitability agent, even though the agency no longer conducts the vast majority of background investigations as it used to. Its role remains codified in executive order.

A security clearance allows an individual filling a specific position to access classified national security information up to and including the level of clearance that they hold as long as the individual has a “need to know” the information and signs a non-disclosure agreement.

A security clearance can be active, current, or expired. A clearance is only active if the person has a current need to access classified information.

To determine the current status of your security clearance, contact the agency’s personnel security office that granted your clearance.  If you are a contract employee, your company’s facility security officer should be able to assist you. If you’ve left the federal government, you can submit a Privacy Act request to determine your clearance status.


There are three security clearance levels:

  • Confidential (Required when the unauthorized disclosure of information could reasonably be expected to cause damage to the national security.)
  • Secret (Required when the unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to the national security.)
  • Top Secret (Required when the unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.)


Many without a security clearance attempt to apply for a security investigation to meet the requirements for positions of interest. Individuals are not allowed to independently apply for a security clearance investigation. Federal agencies must request investigations appropriate to specific positions and their duties. Only when a person is offered a position requiring a security clearance will they initiate a clearance investigation.

Once a person without an active security clearance has been offered a federal position or allowed to work on behalf of the federal government, a sponsoring federal agency requires that individual to complete a SF-86. You’ll need to provide at information that spans across the 13 adjudicative guidelines. Some questions ask if you have ‘ever’ participated in a certain activity or had a particular issue; other questions (such as employment and housing information) are for a specific term. The sponsoring agency will then initiate the investigation, adjudicate the results, and issue the appropriate clearance.

A security clearance application is extensive. You must provide: detailed personal information, list other names you may have used, past and present places of residence, former employers, family members, passports, citizenship, where you went to school, and military history to name a few. The SF-86 form is 138 pages long.

I first held a Secrete Clearance early in my military career and recall the tedious application process and the time it took for the investigation to be completed.

Some DoD contractors require applicants to already have a clearance. Persons who have clearances are those who are already employed by a government contractor (or by the government itself) and are looking for other job opportunities.


Government security specialists formulate and apply security policy, procedures, systems, and programs involving the loyalty and reliability of those who require security clearances for entry and retention in sensitive and non-sensitive positions. They make security clearance determinations for employees or other persons for access to sensitive information, resources, material, or work sites.


Personnel Security is the function that determines the suitability and security eligibility of individuals for entry and retention in sensitive and non-sensitive positions. After meeting suitability and eligibility criteria, individuals with the need to know attain access to sensitive information, resources, material, or work sites.

Physical Security is concerned with physical measures designed to safeguard personnel; to prevent unauthorized access to equipment, facilities, material, and documents; and to safeguard them against espionage, sabotage, damage, and theft. Physical security also provides the criteria for the levels and types of armed security forces required for response and containment.

Information Security protects classified national defense and other sensitive information originated or controlled by Federal agencies. Such information (documents, materials, devices, industrial processes, systems, etc.) is commonly contained within Federal facilities and systems, although it may be located in industrial facilities, academic institutions, other governmental organizations (including foreign governments), or other locations.

Industrial Security requires many of the knowledges and skills needed to perform physical, and information security work. Contractors and subcontractors must limit access to grounds by employees, vendors, government personnel, and others; provide badge and pass systems; maintain clearance records and controls; provide fences; alarms; intrusion detection and other electronic devices; and follow the strict guidance provided by federal security specialists.


If hired for a federal job, you must at least go through a basic background check to make sure you’re reliable, trustworthy, and suitable for the job. If a security clearance is required, applicants must complete the SF-86 form. The background check process starts after you accept a job offer. The federal sector offers extensive benefits including great pay, a lucrative three-tiered retirement plan, vacation and sick leave, and jobs are available worldwide.

It should be noted that failure to obtain and maintain the designated type of security clearance/background check required for the respective work may result in a job offer being rescinded, separations of employment, or other actions as may be deemed in the best interest of the agency.

Throughout my career, from my early military years to working as a manager with the Federal Aviation Administration, I held security clearances. The initial application process and extensive National Security Questionnaire may seem daunting at first, especially for those who hate tedious, time-intensive tasks. The strict protocols are necessary to protect the national interests by assigning employees and contractor’s the appropriate security clearance level. The good news is the government is in the process of rolling out a new, more intuitive online security clearance application tool. Once eApp is fully implemented, the process will still be time-intensive – but it will be much more streamlined, and open the doors to a lucrative and rewarding security clearance career.

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Dennis V. Damp, the creator of and, is a retired federal manager, business owner, career counselor and veteran. Damp is the author of 28 books, his books were featured in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times and U.S. News & World Report.