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What Are The Various Federal Security Clearances?

federal security clearances for cybersecurity

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What are the Various Federal Security Clearances?

Security clearances are background checks commonly needed for federal job positions dealing with national security information. This certification process is used to ensure the confidentiality of classified documents. highly recommends that students studying the following degrees should invest additional time learning more about obtaining a clearance:

Students interested in pursuing federal job positions should be aware of Federal Government and federal contracting employment requirements regarding qualifying for clearance as a condition of employment.

Many defense contractors require employees to bring various clearance levels to work within their organization. Employers will often recruit former military personnel holding government security clearances.

This article will discuss the background of the various clearance levels and how to obtain clearance for and with the Federal Government.

How Important is Security Clearance?

The U.S. Government implements security clearance to protect the country, its citizens, and its allies by restricting access to sensitive information.

  • A security clearance is required to gain access to specific classified information. 
  • To get a security clearance, a Federal Government agency or contractor must employ you, and your role must deem it necessary.
  • After securing a role, you may get clearance for the classified material.
  • A security clearance is an essential designation within the U.S. National Security System, as it limits access to sensitive information to protect the country and its citizens.

Why Would an Applicant be Declined for a Clearance?

The Federal Government may refuse an applicant a security clearance because of the results of an investigation, which may include considerations such as honesty, openness, and completion of forms.

  • The government investigates the applicant for clearance to ensure that granting or maintaining eligibility for a security clearance aligns with the nation’s security interests.
  • A security clearance background investigation typically covers personal characteristics, biases, and behavior. 
  • A sign of issues in these areas may require additional research and result in a clearance denial.

What are the Various Levels of Security Clearances?

Security clearances have varying levels, each of which requires a background check. Top Secret clearance is the most intensive effort requiring background checks, polygraphs, and interviews. 

  • Confidential Information: Information requiring security clearance can put national security at risk and must be renewed every 15 years.
  • Secret: This security clearance allows access to confidential information that must not be shared without authorized approval. This clearance must be renewed every 10 years.
  • Top Secret: This security clearance provides access to critical information for national security information, which must be kept secure. This authorization is valid for 5 years and must be renewed after that.

The government has various levels of investigation for security clearances that are established depending on the classification and risk associated with the information.

This table and list below outlines the OPM e-QIP tiers:

  • Tier 1 Low Risk, Non-Sensitive, including HSPD-12 Credentialing, Form SF85.”
  • Tier 2 Moderate Risk Public Trust (MRPT), Form SF85P.”
  • Tier 3 Non-Critical Sensitive National Security, Form SF86.”
  • Tier 4 High-Risk Public Trust (HRPT), Form SF85P.”
  • Tier 5 Critical Sensitive and Special Sensitive National Security, including Top Secret, and SCI, Form SF86.”

What Positions Require a Security Clearance?

Most government departments require employees to have security clearance to perform their jobs. The necessity of requiring a security clearance does not imply a specific position. 

Federal Government agencies typically recognize their respective investigations and decisions under reciprocity regulations. Agencies often leverage reciprocity regulations when conducting cross-functional and joint operations. 

Agencies needing Top Secret security clearances include the FBI, the Department of Justice, the CIA, the NSA, the DIA, the NRO, and the Department of Homeland Security. 

Who Issues Security Clearances?

The security clearance process involves an applicant submitting forms via the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s e-QIP website, followed by investigations conducted by either the OPM, Department of Defense, Office of Director of National Intelligence, or an Investigation Service Provider (ISP).

While no single Federal Government agency handles all such inquiries, the Department of Defense, Defense counterintelligence agencies, and Office of Personnel Management usually manages most of the investigations.

The Security Clearance Background Investigation Process

To begin the security clearance process, there must be an established requirement for the clearance itself. Organizations with contracts or grants from the Federal Government require their employees to possess a security clearance before employment.

A security clearance is given after investigation. Individual employees, including newly elected members of Congress, will often be granted an interim Secret or Top Secret security clearance to help fulfill their roles. 

The applicant must complete the forms on the OPM website to apply. Afterward, the Department of Defense, Office of National Intelligence, and Office of the Inspector General will begin their investigation.

Is a Security Clearance Required for Cybersecurity Opportunities?

Security clearances are often needed for personnel working for Federal agencies and their associated contractors. 

A security clearance may be required if a person needs to deal with classified information, regardless of the job description.

Knowledge for Today and in the Future

Security clearances are necessary for protecting against threats originating with hostile intelligence services, cybersecurity threats, terrorists and other threats. This vetting determines who may have access to Government documents or personal information. Equipping yourself with knowledge of security clearances today can help you better navigate the pathways to careers in the Federal Government in the future.

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