Security clearance eligibility is typically seen as cut and dried – you either have a security clearance, or you don’t. You’re either eligible to access classified information, or you’re not. But beyond a security clearance being granted or denied, the government has given itself one option to allow individuals to pursue national security careers even if they have issues that need to be addressed.

Security clearance attorney Sean Bigley describes conditional clearances this way – like the Christmas M&M’s commercial where the candy exclaims, ‘they do exist.’ That’s reality behind conditional clearances. Even though the average security clearance holder has probably never heard of them – they’re out there.

“It is a thing, it does exist, and it’s actually something that’s really important for people to know about who maybe have an issue in their background that’s kind of borderline. and they’re wondering if maybe can I keep or get a clearance with this.”

Bigley explained that Security Executive Agent Directive (SEAD) 4, issued in 2017, opened the door for conditional clearances to be granted across the DoD, the largest segment of the cleared population. While conditional clearances existed in policy before, it was frequently considered a longshot. SEAD 4 made it more possible, but security clearance holders also shouldn’t count on it.

“The general consensus on this is that you shouldn’t bank on this, it’s rare,” said Bigley. That’s because there is a logistical aspect for the agency granting the conditional clearance, in ensuring the applicant is complying with the ‘conditions’ of eligibility.

“You’re granted a clearance but it’s conditioned on something – quarterly drug tests, or continued on-time filing of your tax returns,” said Bigley.  He added that the agency is basically saying they trust the applicant, “but we want to trust but verify.”

And the government is not going to want to take those extra steps for just any applicant.

“Someone who is a very valuable employee, or a borderline case but a sympathetic one, those are the cases where a conditional clearance may be very valuable,” said Bigley.

While it’s rare, it can be helpful. And will likely grow even more so in the coming months as the government expands options for prior drug users to obtain security clearances, or the growing prevalence of cases involving individuals who already held a security clearance and then did drugs. Submitting to drug tests after a violation may help prove the desire to keep a clearance above the desire to continue using.

“The authority exists,” said Bigley. “Depending on the agency, and depending upon the situation, it can be a viable option.

What is a security clearance preclusion?

A kissing cousin to the conditional clearance is the preclusion. For individuals who have specific vulnerabilities – particularly in the area of foreign influence – preclusions can help them get the clearance for the work they need but without access that could create additional vulnerabilities.

“Preclusion is another variation on a conditional grant,” said Bigley. “Some agencies, most often the State Department, use this where they have someone who they would like to keep, typically a diplomat, and the person has lived overseas a number of years.”

The preclusion allows security clearance eligibility but adds a preclusion – precluding access to specific classified information, for example, that pertaining to a country where the applicant or clearance holder has a significant tie or bond of affection. The preclusion protects the government, but also protects the applicant – if they find themselves being pressured to share, they can honestly say they don’t know – and don’t have access.

These terms are all more possibilities than probabilities. But in a world where knowledge and proactivity are key, they can be the steps necessary to advance an unlikely candidate into a critical role.


This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Although the information is believed to be accurate as of the publication date, no guarantee or warranty is offered or implied. Laws and government policies are subject to change, and the information provided herein may not provide a complete or current analysis of the topic or other pertinent considerations. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 


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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