Clearance FAQs

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Q.If I used marijuana and experimented with other drugs over two year ago while in college, will I be denied a security clearance?
A. Probably not. Although the Adjudicative Guidelines list any drug use as a disqualifying condition; most young people are able to substantially mitigate their drug involvement. Mitigation involves a stated and demonstrated intent not to abuse any drugs in the future, dissociation from drug-using associates, changing or avoiding the environment where drugs were used, and an appropriate period of abstinence. There have been cases where a period of less than one year was adjudicated as “an appropriate period of abstinence.” The appropriate period of time is influenced by your age, frequency of use, and the number of years that you used drugs. If you are middle aged and you used drugs regularly for 10 years, an adjudicator may not feel that two years is an appropriate period of abstinence.

Q. How much time must pass before illegal drug involvement can be mitigated by time?
A. The Adjudicative Guidelines do not contain any timetables regarding drug involvement; however, there is a supplemental guide known as the “Adjudicative Desk Reference” (ADR). Adjudicators can use the ADR to help them reach their decisions, but they are not required to follow the recommendations in the ADR. The ADR contains the following definitions and guidance regarding the minimum amount of time that should pass before drug involvement can be mitigated by “passage of time without recurrence”:

The following examples of time periods [of abstinence] that might mitigate various types and frequencies of past drug use . . . are provided for consideration in the context of all the other information available about the person. They are not a formula to be applied mechanically in all cases.

At Least Six Months: The only drug use was experimental or occasional use of marijuana, and there are no aggravating circumstances.
At Least One Year: Marijuana was used frequently, or any other drug was used experimentally, and there are no aggravating circumstances.
At Least Two Years: Marijuana was used regularly, or any other drug was used occasionally, and there are no aggravating circumstances. There was no evidence of psychological or physical dependence at the time subject was using drugs, and subject has demonstrated a stable life style with satisfactory employment record since then.
At Least Three Years: Any drug other than marijuana was used frequently or regularly, or marijuana was used regularly with signs of psychological dependence. There are no other aggravating circumstances. Subject has maintained a stable lifestyle, satisfactory employment record, and a completely clean record in all other issue areas during the past three years.
At Least Five Years: A minor involvement in drug trafficking for profit or failure to complete a drug treatment program. Subject has maintained a stable lifestyle, satisfactory employment record, and a completely clean record in all other issue areas during the past five years.

Experimental Use: Initial use for a maximum of six times, or more intensive use for a maximum of one month.
Occasional Use: Once a month or less.
Frequent Use: Once a week or less, but more than once a month.
Regular or Habitual Use: More than once a week.

Q. I was arrested for simple possession of marijuana 8 years ago, when I was 15 years old. Do I have to list this on my SF86?
A. Yes, if your arrest resulted in being charged with a drug related offense. Although Section 23 of the SF86 asks about drug use within the past 7 years; Section 22 asks “Have you EVER been charged with an offense involving alcohol or drugs?” If you were not charged and you had no subsequent involvement with drugs, you would not have to list simple possession of use of drugs that occurred more than 7 years ago.

Q.How can I obtain a security clearance?
A. You must be sponsored by a cleared contractor or a government agency. To be sponsored you must be employed by a cleared contractor/government agency (or hired as a consultant) in a position that requires a clearance. As an exception, a candidate for employment may be sponsored for a clearance if an offer of employment has been made and the candidate has accepted the offer. For contractors both the offer and acceptance must be in writing, and the offer of employment must indicate that employment will begin within 30 days of receiving the clearance.

Q. much does a security clearance cost?
A. The Government has not published figures for the total cost of security clearances; however, the Office of Personnel Management publishes the cost of security clearance investigations. The vast majority of investigations and clearances are paid for by Government agencies using appropriated funds. Only a very small number of non-DOD federal contractors pay for security clearance investigations. For more information see the article on “The Real Cost of Security Clearances.”

Q. How long does it take to complete an investigation for a DoD Top Secret clearance?
A. Investigative processing times have decreased significantly in the past few years. It is now taking about 3 months for the fastest 90% of Top Secret clearance investigations and a little more than 1 month for the fastest 90% of Secret clearance investigation. This does not include initiation time and adjudication time, which together currently averages about 45 days. Processing of problematic cases and cases for Special Access Programs take significantly longer.

Q. Will my investigation for a Top Secret clearance take substantially longer because I have had several different residences and employers over the past 10 years?
A. Not necessarily, because these investigations are worked on concurrently (rather than sequentially) by different investigative field offices located throughout the United States. A more important determinant of the length of time it takes to complete an investigation is the number of employers and residences an applicant fails to list on his security clearance application. If an investigator in one location completes his portion of your investigation on the suspense date assigned to the case but develops an unlisted employment that occurred in another location, he must task the other field office to cover the unlisted employment. The receiving field office is assigned a new suspense date for that new portion of the investigation. If more unlisted information is then developed, the remainder of the investigation could be conducted sequentially with one office tasking another office, then another, and another.

Q. I was stationed at a US Army base in Germany for about two years. Will this delay the completion of my investigation for a Top Secret clearance?
A. Yes, if you lived in Germany within the past three years. OPM does not have any investigators permanently assigned outside the United States. Places like Germany are covered by sending OPM investigators there on temporary duty for periods of 45 to 90 days at a time. OPM allows such cases to accumulate until there is sufficient work to warrant sending an investigator to the base where you were assigned.

Q. I went through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy two years ago. Is there any point for me to even apply for a clearance?
A. If you have been living within your means and have not been delinquent in any debt repayment since your bankruptcy, you will probably not be disqualified based on financial considerations. Surprisingly, the Adjudicative Guidelines do not specifically address bankruptcy. A bankruptcy from two years ago is not considered a current problem. A single bankruptcy two years ago that was caused by circumstance largely beyond your control without any subsequent problems (or secondary issues that complicate matters), probably would not result in a clearance denial.

Q. I have a security clearance, and I was recently arrested for drunk driving. Do I have to report this to my security officer, even if it appears that the drunk driving charge will be dismissed? What will happen if I report it?
A. Yes, you must report the arrest to your security officer. An Incident Report will be submitted by your security officer to the agency that granted your clearance. You will probably be required to submit a new SF86. If this is your first alcohol-related incident and there are no aggravating circumstances, you might only receive a warning letter from the agency following the disposition of your court case. If you have had previous alcohol-related incidents or there is any other evidence of an underlying alcohol problem, a limited background investigation could be conducted regarding the incident and your history of alcohol consumption with or without a temporary clearance suspension and your eligibility for continued access to classified information would be readjudicated.

Q. I am 19 years old, and I am enlisting in the Armed Forces in the near future. My position will require a Secret clearance. I smoked marijuana a few times in high school between my 16th and 17th birthday. My recruiter gave me an SF86 to fill out and hinted that I shouldn’t list this information on the form. Based on the scope of an investigation for a Secret clearance it appears unlikely that my involvement with marijuana will be discovered the investigation, since there is no written record anywhere that I smoked marijuana. Should I list my marijuana use on the SF86 and risk the chance of having my clearance delayed or possibly denied?
A. You should list you marijuana use on your SF86 as accurately as possible. It may sound corny, but honesty is the best policy. Intentional falsification of an SF86 is felony punishable by fine and/or imprisonment. See the answer to the earlier question about using marijuana while in college. There is another consideration. You have to think about the long-term consequences of falsifying a security questionnaire. Today you are only applying for a Secret clearance, but what if your clearance requirement changes soon after you join the Army? What if you separate from the Army after serving 4 years and you apply for a DoD contractor position that requires a Top Secret clearance and possibly a polygraph examination? You will have to submit a new SF86 for the Top Secret clearance and that investigation will be far more comprehensive than the one for a Secret clearance. If your new investigation reveals that you used marijuana when you were 16, it will immediately be obvious that you falsified your prior SF86. Falsification of an SF86 is a criminal offense that bears directly on your honesty and integrity. These issues are far more significant that using marijuana a few times while in high school.

Q. I’m a federal employee with a Secret clearance. Like many people, my mortgage is upside down. I have unsuccessfully tried to get my mortgage company to refinance my mortgage. I’m not behind on my mortgage or any bills. I’m being considered for a higher level federal position that requires a TS/SCI clearance. If I lose my house due to foreclosure, will I be denied a TS/SCI clearance and therefore be ineligible for the new job? Will my Secret clearance be affected?
A. Guideline F (Financial Considerations) of the Adjudicative Guidelines applies equally to Secret, Top Secret, and SCI. If you’re found ineligible for a TS/SCI, you will be ineligible for a Secret. You have a job, your income has not declined, and you are able to make your mortgage payments. Unless there are circumstances beyond your control that are forcing you to refinance or lose your home to foreclosure, there is a strong possibility that you will be denied TS/SCI and have your Secret clearance revoked. What you seem to be contemplating is what people refer to as a “strategic default.” Basically a strategic default entails shifting the loss from the decrease in value of your home from you to the mortgagee. This is evidence of unwillingness to pay your debts, which is a disqualifying condition for a security clearance that generally cannot be mitigated.

Q. I was declined interim clearance by DISCO. The only reason I can think of that this happened is because I have a foreign passport. I became a US citizen about 2 years ago, and I still have a valid passport from my native country, but I haven’t used it since I became a US citizen. Is there any way to mitigate this and receive an interim clearance?
A. In most cases no. DISCO rarely reconsiders an interim clearance declination. In order to receive a final clearance you will have to state a willingness to renounce your foreign citizenship. You will also have to surrender or invalidate your foreign passport. If obtaining an interim clearance is particularly important to you, you can surrender your foreign passport to your security officer and have the security officer give you a signed statement to that effect. Attach the security officer’s written statement to a letter in which you state: 1) you have surrendered you foreign passport, 2) your willingness to renounce your foreign citizenship, and 3) your request to have your eligibility for an interim clearance reevaluated. Mail the letter to DISCO with your full name, SSN, date of birth, and investigation request number. Most cases involving foreign passports also have other “Foreign Preference” and “Foreign Influence” concerns, so merely addressing the foreign citizenship and passport may not be enough to receive an interim clearance.

Q. I’m receiving treatment for depression. Will I be denied a security clearance?
A. Mental health treatment rarely results in a security clearance denial, but it frequently results in the declination of an interim clearance. That’s because interim clearance determinations are made before a background investigation is conducted. A clearance cannot be granted without your mental health practitioner attesting that your condition does not impair your judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness. Your mental health practitioner will be interviewed as part of your background investigation and his/her opinion will be presented to the adjudicator as part of the investigative report, but not until your investigation is completed. There are ways of making this information available to the adjudicator as part of your clearance application, so that it can be considered for an interim clearance decision.

Q. I was convicted of a felony offense 5 years ago but only spent six months in a county jail. Am I barred from having a security clearance because of the Smith Amendment?
A. No. The Smith Amendment was repealed and replaced by the Bond Amendment. The law now only prohibits the granting of a security clearance to a current user of illegal drugs; however, it continues to prohibit the granting of access eligibility for Special Access Programs, Restricted Data, or Sensitive Compartmented Information to anyone (without a waiver) who has been:

  • Convicted of a crime, sentenced, and incarcerated for a term exceeding 1 year
  • Discharged or dismissed from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions
  • Determined to be mentally incompetent by a government approved mental health professional

Q. I have a relative living in a foreign country. Will this affect my chances of getting a security clearance?
A. Yes, but the affect could be anywhere from negligible to significant. Adjudicative Guideline B (Foreign Influence) provides that contact or connections with foreign persons may result in disqualification for a security clearance, if that contact or connection creates a heightened risk of foreign exploitation, inducement, manipulation, pressure, or coercion. It basically depends on the nature and extent of your contact with your foreign relative, the country in which your relative resides, and the position or activity of your relative in the foreign country. Obviously countries whose interests are inimical to those of the United States are of greater concern than countries that are political allies of the United States. Frequent contact with a cousin in a foreign country can be just as significant as little or no contact with a parent in a foreign country. A relative who holds a position in foreign government or military is more significant than a relative who has no connection with a foreign government.

Q. I recently married a foreign national. Do I have to report this to my security officer?
A. If you possess a DOD Secret clearance, no. If you possess a Top Secret clearance or are involved in a Special Access Program, yes.

Q. What is an NACI security clearance?
A. An NACI (National Agency Check with Inquiries) is not a clearance. It’s a federal background investigation conducted to determine an applicant’s suitability for federal employment and/or to determine an applicant’s (federal or contractor) eligibility for a Personal Identity Verification (PIV) card (also known as a PIV credential) required by Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 (HSPD-12) for physical access to federally controlled facilities or logical access to federally controlled information technology systems. Federal employment suitability standards are established by Title 5 Code of Federal Regulations, Section 731.202 and PIV Cards standards are established by OPM’s Final Credentialing Standards for Issuing Personal Identity Verification Cards Under HSPD-12. Within the Department of Defense PIV Cards are known as Common Access Cards (CAC). For more information about the various federal background investigations and clearances, see Federal Security/Suitability Clearance Chart.

Q. What is the scope and period of coverage for a Secret clearance investigation for a federal contractor?
A. A National Agency Check with Law and Credit (NACLC) investigation is required for a Secret clearance for contractor and military personnel. A standard NACLC covers five years and includes a National Agency Check, police record checks, and a credit bureau report. A different investigation is required for federal job applicants who need a Secret clearance. For more information about requirements for federal clearances, including forms, investigations, and reinvestigations, see Federal Suitability/Security Clearance Chart.

Q. Who issues security clearances?
A. There are dozens of Government agencies that issue security clearances. The Department of Defense has 10 Central Adjudications Facilities all located in a single building at Fort Meade, MD. Most federal contractor clearances are issued by the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO); however, contractor eligibility for access to Sensitive Compartment Information and other Special Access Programs is granted by U.S. intelligence agencies.

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