The security clearance process consists of three parts – initiation, investigation, and adjudication. When we talk about security clearance processing times, however, we’re generally seeing a reporting of just the investigation and adjudication times. That’s because the initiation phase is based on the agency and the applicant. The more quickly and thoroughly you complete your SF-86 or security clearance application on eQIP or eApp, the more quickly the investigation can begin. In some cases, agencies are known for being a bit slow when it comes to initiating clearances, as well, and that can increase processing times beyond the average reported figures.
What Happens in Each Stage of the Security Clearance Process
The security clearance process consists of three phases:
Initiation is the stage where an applicant completes the SF-86 and submits it to their security officer, who then submits it to the agency head in charge of establishing which positions require a security clearance and if the individual in question requires clearance eligibility for their position. The SF-86 is also generally reviewed for completion. This is the stage the applicant has the greatest control over. Completing the form accurately and thoroughly, along with properly using the additional comments section can significantly speed up the security clearance process.
The investigation is when a background investigator reviews the details provided in the SF-86, verifies information as require, conducts additional interviews as necessary, and generally establishes basic information about the applicant based on both information directly provided and information corroborated by outside sources. For a Secret clearance, many of those checks can be conducted electronically. For a Top Secret clearance investigation, more interviews and a greater depth – and length of time for completion – should be expected.
Adjudication is the final piece of the clearance puzzle and consists of a reviewer going over the information in the SF-86 and determining if the applicant is reliable, trustworthy, and should be granted clearance eligibility based on the adjudicative guidelines.
A clearance applicant should be notified of their security clearance determination by their security officer if it is successfully granted. If additional information is needed an adjudicator may reach out. If the initial determination is not favorable, a Statement of Reasons or Letter of Intent to deny the clearance will be issued, and may come directly from the government vs. the security officer.
Clearance processing times are improving – but are variable. A lot of additional time – and mistakes – can come up in the initiation phase. If you’re unsure if your investigation has begun, don’t hesitate to be proactive in following up and asking your security officer.