Security Clearances

September 3, 2007 – 12:05 pm


Everyone hired for a federal job undergoes a basic background check of their criminal and credit histories.

In addition, jobs that include access to sensitive information generally require a security clearance, which requires a more intensive background investigation that begins after someone has already received a job offer. Examples of agencies which may require high levels of security clearance include the:

  • State Department
  • Intelligence Community (e.g., CIA, FBI)
  • Agency for International Development
  • Department of Defense
  • National Nuclear Security Administration

Federal jobs that involve access to sensitive information often require a security clearance. Applying for these jobs is a four-step process:

  1. Receiving the job offer.
  2. A basic background check of the individual’s criminal and credit histories.
    A basic background check includes a review of law enforcement records, and verification of education, past employment, and citizenship. Being honest is more important than having a spotless record. Past mistakes will be considered on a case-by-case basis, but falsification of records (including omission of important events) will generally disqualify you for a job.
  3. A more intensive clearance investigation once the offer has been made.
  4. The agency’s decision of whether or not to grant clearance, based on the clearance investigation.
    About 90% of background investigations go through one agency, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

The hiring agency makes the ultimate decisions about the job offer and granting clearance and therefore dictates how long these steps will take. OPM’s Web site answers many questions about the rest of the process (steps 2 and 3).

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