What happens to a cleance if I leave the job?
March 14, 2011 9:22 AM   Subscribe

Will a U.S. security clearance investigation in progress be halted if I leave my sponsoring company?

I work for a federal contractor ("SupportCo"). I provide on-site support to a department ("GovPlace") that does not handle sensitive information. My current contract with GovPlace is ending in a couple of months and my manager at SupportCo wants to sponsor me for a secret clearance so I can move to another contract (with...let's say DOD) after it ends. I would be amenable to this.

Coincidentally, my clients at GovPlace are in the process of insourcing a number of duties that are currently performed by contractors. As it happens, there is an opening in GovPlace now that would do pretty much exactly what I do for them (and would pay more, with better benefits) and my clients have indicated that they would love for me to come on board as a fed. It's not the greatest job, but it would be a step forward. I'm going to apply for it.

Questions aplenty: Provided that I end up being offered the position at GovPlace (which I know is not 100% assured) and accept it, what would happen to my clearance investigation? (I assume that this would happen after the interim clearance is offered, since the GovPlace HR process would probably take a couple of months.) Would SupportCo be able to just pull the plug on the investigation, or would it naturally just end? If the clearance did get granted in this time, would I be able to claim an active clearance for future use even if I never started the contract it was ostensibly for? And finally, is there any kind of ethical concern that I may be wasting SupportCo's (or DOD's) money? (Apart from some extensive international travel, I don't see a reason why I'd be denied clearance, and again, there's still a chance I may end up on the SupportCo contract with DOD.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (5 answers total)
My impression (and that's all I can offer) is that the investigation will end as soon as you are not heading for a position that needs it. Also, I believe that the employer pays for the investigation. Given that, you can't expect your old employer to keep paying for the ongoing investigation once you're leaving them.

If the timing is such that you get cleared but never start the work it was for, then a two-year expiration clock is ticking on your clearance from the moment you were cleared. You would have an active clearance, but tick tock.

Barring contract terms specifically addressing this (such as the common ones for repaying classroom training costs) I don't see an ethical problem. It's part of the nature of the business, and all the players understand that. What it is is a reason for your company to keep you happy and retain you. They may try to do that by making a counteroffer when you give notice, one that would take your new clearance status into account.
posted by NortonDC at 11:53 AM on March 14, 2011

Talk to the Security Manager at GovPlace, and then to the SupportCo Security Manager. They know your exact status and can best answer specific questions about your situation.

The position description for the insourced FedJob that you are thinking about applying for will likely include a clause that indicates you must "be eligible for and maintain" a certain level of clearance. You often don't need to have the clearance in advance.

There's no "wasting money" - SupportCo has an agreement with the USGov to grant clearances to employees based on background investigations. These aren't done by the JoeSchmoe Detective Agency with the sassy secretary, the internal monologue, and the fedora/trenchcoat, they are conducted by the Defense Security Service (and perhaps by DSS contractors).

If you submit your EPSQ (was the SF86), it will get validated by SupportCo Security Manager and forwarded to the great pile at DSS. Based on a preliminary review (credit history, criminal background check, maybe less), SupportCo Security Manager can grant you the Interim Secret. If you stay with SupportCo, that interim clearance stays with you until DSS completes their investigation (at which time SupportCo Security Manager will change your clearance to Final Secret.) The good news is that the investigation is complete, and regardless of the status of your future employment (private or public), your future security manager will have access to the status of DSS's completed investigation and will be able to grant you a clearance rather quickly.

If you submit your EPSQ and it goes into the pile and then you quit your job, SupportCo Security Manager will pull it from DSS queue and administratively revoke your interim clearance (with no repurcussion) and then GovPlace Security Manager will ask you to resubmit the EPSQ, grant you the interim, and stick it back on the pile at DSS.

But to reiterate, there are no direct (e.g. reimbursable) costs to SupportCo nor to GovPlace - just the routine salary and overhead costs incurred in having a Security Manager on staff (that is, SupportCo already pays your Security Manager to do this).

Your clearance is not transferable, the investigation is, and it doesn't cost anything. And perhaps anecdotal, DSS has really trimmed down their backlog in the past few years, so the whole process is rather quick and painless.

To answer your specific questions:
- what would happen to your clearance investigation? It would get pulled, but it's no big deal to restart once you work for GovPlace.
- would SupportCo pull the plug? Yes, they no longer have an employee that needs a clearance.
- would you be able to claim an active clearance? Yes, if you were granted a Secret clearance by SupportCo Security Manager, put it on your resume. Do not imply final while interim, though.
- ethical restraint on wasting money? Your ethics are your own, so that's for you to decide, but there's no wasted money.
posted by panmunjom at 1:53 PM on March 14, 2011

...and I'm not sure what 2-year clock NortonDC is talking about. Secret clearances can be granted and held based on a 10 year old investigation, Confidential at 15 years. Clearances don't expire, the investigations upon which they are based do. (Clearances are 'withdrawn' by the sponsor if they are no longer required - e.g. employee changes jobs, contract expires.)

Here's a pretty good FAQ (.pdf) from Dice/ClearanceJobs that's much more thorough than my answer above.
posted by panmunjom at 2:27 PM on March 14, 2011

"When a security clearance is inactivated (ie, when someone gets out of the military, or quits from their government civilian job or contractor job), it can be reactivated within 24 months, as long as the last background investigation falls within the above time-frame."


"A government security clearance requires a periodic reinvestigation every 15 years for a “confidential” clearance, every 10 years for “secret,” and every 5 years for “top secret.” When a clearance is inactivated (because of switching jobs or leaving the military), it can be fairly easy to reinstate within the first 24 months, as long as that falls within the periodic reinvestigation window. After that, it becomes significantly more difficult. In other words, if your clearance is going to lapse, it is important for you to consider some options to reactivate it within the first two years."


In order to be issued a security clearance for another position, an individual must meet the following requirements:
# For a security clearance at a security cleared facility under the National Industrial Security Program (NISP) the termination date of the applicants former clearance must have been within the past 24 months, and there must not have been any subsequent adverse information on the applicant that would preclude them from being issued a new clearance. If an applicant does not meet these requirements, the employing organization may ask the applicant to complete an e-QIP which enables the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to perform a personnel security investigation (PSI).

# For Federal or Military Service, the date the applicant left prior federal or military service must have occurred less than 24 months ago. However, there must not have been any subsequent adverse information on the applicant that would preclude them from being issued a new security clearance.

Finally, further reading indicates that who pays for the investigation, government or contracting company, depends on the agency involved and other factors, with the government frequently but not exclusively footing the bill.
posted by NortonDC at 3:08 PM on March 14, 2011

...and now I know the rest of the story. :)
posted by panmunjom at 8:43 PM on March 14, 2011

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