We get a lot of questions about interim security clearances here at ClearanceJobs, and for good reason. An interim clearance significantly reduces the time it takes between when an uncleared job applicant is hired and when they can start work, making it a valuable commodity for employer and employee alike. At the same time, there is precious little information available publicly on how federal agencies make interim clearance decisions. The mystery coupled with the real-world impact can be frustrating, especially given the wealth of information available on how final eligibility determinations are made.

Managing Risk

Part of the reason for the dearth of public information on interim clearances is that they are risk management decisions, and thus require a higher degree of subjectivity than a final eligibility determination. Like a final eligibility determination, a favorable interim decision will only be made where facts and circumstances indicate access to classified information is “clearly consistent” with the national security interests of the United States. That is the same standard which governs final eligibility determinations, so no mystery there. But unlike final eligibility determinations, security adjudicators are operating at the interim stage without the benefit of an applicant background investigation. In other words, adjudicators are required to make a judgement call – based solely off the limited information available to them – as to whether an individual is likely to be granted a final favorable eligibility determination after a background investigation that hasn’t yet commenced. To do that, they review the following documents: the SF-86 (soon-to-be “PVQ”); fingerprint check results; proof of U.S. citizenship; and results of local record checks, as applicable.

Be thorough With Your SF-86/PVQ

With that in mind, one can perhaps understand now the importance of thoroughly and accurately completing the SF-86/PVQ and including pertinent mitigating information in the comments, as necessary. Among the documents reviewed by adjudicators in rendering an interim clearance determination, the SF-86/PVQ is the only one an applicant can control. An experienced security clearance attorney can be of enormous value here because what is considered mitigating isn’t always intuitive; I’ve seen a lot of applicants shoot themselves in the foot by trying to be candid. There are also sometimes proactive steps an applicant can take before submitting the SF-86/PVQ that will help improve their odds. For example, completing a financial education class and budget where financial responsibility may be a concern; or selling overseas property and closing foreign bank accounts.

When an Interim Clearance is Unlikely

Of course, there are certain situations that may not lend themselves to an interim security clearance, no matter how hard an applicant tries to mitigate the concern on the SF-86/PVQ. Those include very recent substance abuse, serious criminal history, a pattern of unemployability, a few serious psychological conditions, significant evidence of financial irresponsibility, and potential counter-intelligence indicators, to name a few. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it should underscore something that a lot of applicants lose sleep over needlessly: a single, minor issue that doesn’t suggest a character flaw isn’t typically outcome-determinative. Some common examples here include: a single delinquent debt (or perhaps even a few) that has been paid; a single misdemeanor arrest from years prior that did not involve moral turpitude; or some minor and very dated drug experimentation. Again, this is not an exhaustive list or a guarantee, but rather some rough guideposts for purposes of illustration.

Interim Clearance Denial and What It Means

Also worth noting: an interim clearance denial – which is not appealable – is not necessarily an indicator of a final unfavorable eligibility determination. Rather, it only means that adjudicators didn’t have enough information to feel confident prior to seeing the full picture. A lot of people who are denied an interim clearance ultimately receive a favorable final eligibility decision. It is rarer to be granted an interim clearance and then have it rescinded after a background investigation. When that happens, it typically suggests one of two things: falsification on the SF-86/PVQ or the emergence of new, derogatory information that was not within the scope of the SF-86/PVQ questions. Both scenarios are often also avoidable with the assistance of experienced legal counsel.




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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Sean M. Bigley retired from the practice of law in 2023, after a decade representing clients in the security clearance process. He was previously an investigator for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (then-U.S. Office of Personnel Management) and served from 2020-2024 as a presidentially-appointed member of the National Security Education Board. For security clearance assistance, readers may wish to consider Attorney John Berry, who is available to advise and represent clients in all phases of the security clearance process, including pre-application counseling, denials, revocations, and appeals. Mr. Berry can be found at https://berrylegal.com.