Security Clearances
January 18, 2005 11:11 AM   Subscribe

How does someone obtain 'U. S. Government Security Clearance'? I just got laid off and am searching for jobs online again and noticed this on the big sites like Hotjobs, Monster and Dice and it made me curious.
posted by ao4047 to Work & Money (22 answers total)
Typically, you get clearance through your employer.
If you are interested in a position with the government, and it requires a clearance, you should ask the agency's HR people (or OPM) how to go about doing that.

FYI, because the process takes so long, applicants with existing clearances almost always get hiring priority. So take care of it as soon as you can, if you want a job in that area. Also, private contractors are probably more flexible since they can put you on a private-sector project while you are waiting for your clearance to come in.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 11:24 AM on January 18, 2005

You can't get one independently. You need to get a gov't job that requires a security clearance and is willing to pay to get you one, and then you do busy-work for the several months that it requires to do it.
posted by smackfu at 11:25 AM on January 18, 2005

Ah, the ultimate catch-22. In order to obtain a clearance, you must have a job that requires you to have a clearance.

What this means if you don't have (and have never had) a clearance, in practical terms, is that your employer must be willing to hire you PENDING a clearance (if the job requires one), and then pay for you to go through the process. Most consulting firms won't do this, since it takes thousands of dollars and anywhere from 3 - 18 months to get a clearance, and during that time, they can't put you on projects that require one.

When you leave a job, you generally lose your clearance. However, having had a clearance in the past expedites the process for your new employer, so I think that's really what they're looking for, since you've proven yourself to be clearable.
posted by aberrant at 11:26 AM on January 18, 2005

I have nothing to add as far as information. I just wanted to say that as someone who got laid off recently as well, Good Luck, ao4047.
posted by Arch Stanton at 11:30 AM on January 18, 2005

Also, keep in mind that there are not only different levels of clearance (Secret, TS, TS/SCI, etc.), but several issuing agencies as well, and they each have their own criteria. What this means is that a Secret-level clearance from agency A (e.g., DoD) may not be equivalent to a Secret-level clearance from agency B (e.g., FDA).

My experience, however, is that any prior clearance is given a certain amount of weight, since it means you've been through the fairly rigorous vetting process and been found worthy.
posted by aberrant at 11:30 AM on January 18, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks all for the answers! Looks like it's a Catch-22 with the need for an employer to sponsor your clearance. Just wasn't sure if it was like some sort of certification process that could be done independently.
posted by ao4047 at 11:50 AM on January 18, 2005

What sort of past makes somebody 'unclearable'? Do "youthful indiscretions" frequently preclude people from that line of work?
posted by Eamon at 11:50 AM on January 18, 2005

Eamon: depends on the clearance, I think. However, what will REALLY nail you (from what I've heard) is trying to hide your past indiscretions. Apparently this indicates the potential for you to be blackmailed, and that's a big deal.

I was completely forthcoming on my application (though I didn't have a whole hell of a lot to disclose) and it didn't seem to impair my ability to get cleared.

OTOH, if you check the box asking whether you've ever been a member of an organization that advocates the violent overthrow of the US government (yes, that question's there, and no, I assumed MeFi didn't count), you're probably done for.
posted by aberrant at 11:58 AM on January 18, 2005

abberant has it. I'll just add that the standard form one is required to complete is obscenely long and detailed. If I recall correctly one is asked about all living addresses, employment, telephone numbers, international travel, and personal references for the past 7 years. Higher security levels involve interviews, a more thorough background check, and interviews of one's personal references.

Here's the official info. [pdf]
posted by fatllama at 12:00 PM on January 18, 2005

The vetting process is pretty nuts, from what I remember. When I got my security clearance, they called up all my ex-employers and had about 1/2 an hour conversation with each of them. I had to fill out forms, and more forms. They also gave me a drug test, and took my fingerprints and shipped them off to the FBI.

Took about a month from my date of hire until I actually got my clearance, and it cost a boat load of money.
posted by SweetJesus at 12:04 PM on January 18, 2005

Fatllama's correct, but we've both failed to mention certain unpleasantness like multi-hour polygraph tests for some (most?) TS/SCI clearances. Friend of mine had 24 hours of poly over three days in order to get his. Among the poly sections is a "lifestyle" poly in which they (apparently) ask all sorts of personal questions about your sex life, any fetishes, etc. Again, I can't imagine that the fact that you like large men wearing stiletto heels and brandishing bullwhips would stop them from issuing a clearance, but LYING about it would definitely give them cause for concern.
posted by aberrant at 12:06 PM on January 18, 2005

It is a long wait. From the first application (there were four all together) to the final security clearance, it took my sister 21 months to get a job that required a TS clearance. Luckily, she was employed elsewhere at the time and they were cool with her leaving.

They didn't hire you and then do it, it was all ahead of the final offer, although at Month 18 they conditionally offered the job pending the final security check (personal interviews with former neighbors, co-workers, and roommates) and a poloygraph.
posted by ..ooOOoo....ooOOoo.. at 12:07 PM on January 18, 2005

Another factor that can make it harder (or impossible) to get clearance is really bad credit.
posted by redfoxtail at 12:07 PM on January 18, 2005

ao4047, you've nailed it. This is the reason that, when I found myself without employment or a clearance in Washington, D.C., I left town. To be in my line of work in our nation's capital pretty much requires a clearance, though I didn't need one in New York.

Interestingly enough, I moved to San Francisco and got a job with an organization that sponsored my clearance, so now I have one, and returning to D.C.'s now an option if I can get past all the political BS that occurs in that swamp.

Good luck. What sort of work are you interested in?
posted by aberrant at 12:12 PM on January 18, 2005

I got a clearance in my first job after college. There was no Catch-22 involved. I was working them for a little while on non-clearance projects and then when a more interesting project came up that they wanted me to work on and required clearance, they sponsored and got me one.

My clearance level was actually pretty high (to work on a Defense project) I had no idea what was involved at the time but when I found out later that it included impromptu interviews of many of my neighbors to ask about any suspicious activities, it really creeped me out.
posted by vacapinta at 12:18 PM on January 18, 2005

Again, I can't imagine that the fact that you like large men wearing stiletto heels and brandishing bullwhips would stop them from issuing a clearance

Didn't stop Hoover from running the place.

Note also that the clearance level will dictate how terrible the "application" process will be. For example, applying for a joe-job at Homeland Security will get you the standard background check, addresses for the last 7 years, etc. My father was Q clearance (2 above top-secret) and apparently some of his school teachers were interviewed, as well as his neighbors.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:32 PM on January 18, 2005

My old college roomie was getting a clearance and put me down as a reference. When the guy from DoD called me, I started to remember what a nutty personality my ol' roomie has.

I was asked several questions along the lines of "Does X belong to any organizations that work against the government" and stuff, and started to wonder what X would say about me. Suddenly I was inspired, and when the investigator asked, "Has X done anything that, if it became public, could be used against him to embarrass him?"
I answered, "Well,.... um...."
"Oh, was there something?"
"Well, one time, we all got drunk and... well, we went out and..."
"I'm not sure I can tell you; I could get in as much trouble as he could."
"This is confidential, just for his files. We need to know."
"Okay, well we were all drunk and we got this llama, and well, X, he um... you know..."
"All the way, pal!"
*silence*, then....
Hey, you know, people don't usually mess with us like that. That was pretty good!"
posted by Doohickie at 12:38 PM on January 18, 2005

Oh, and as for the question: Depending on who applies, merely having the ability to get a security clearance will get you the job. If you know you can be cleared, or have been cleared in the past, and you're the best qualified candidate, you can get hired. (In other words, no Communists, felons, etc., need apply.)
posted by Doohickie at 12:41 PM on January 18, 2005

Doohickie -- Are you serious!? That's awesome!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:28 PM on January 18, 2005

<totally offtopic>
HA! Doohickie, that's almost as good as the way I got this very persistant Marines recruiting company to stop calling me. I took the ASVAB in high school just for shits and giggles (and to get out of class for a day), and ended up scoring in the highest margins in a whole bunch of areas. And this Marine recruiting company would NOT. STOP. CALLING. ME.

So one day, this recruiter called to set up an appointment, and I remembered this radio skit that I'd heard and said ...
"Do I get a gun?"
"Yes, son, you get the best gun the military can offer!"
"Do I get ammunition?"
"Uh... yes ... "
"Do i get to SHOOT PEOPLE?"
"Uh ... in wartime, uh ... yes ... "
"That's awesome! My psychologist said I couldn't have a gun, so they took all of mine away, and then when I got more they kept me from buying ammunition so if I can have a gun and if I could have ammunition that'd be really awesome and I really want to SHOOT PEOPLE!"
*click* *dial tone*

.. and I never heard from them again.
posted by SpecialK at 4:09 PM on January 18, 2005

C_D: I may have filled in a bit, but that was a pretty accurate paraphrase. And the llama quote is the way it went down. The guy totally bought it, and was obviously relieved when I was kidding him. I then explained that the guy in question had a pretty bizarre sense of humor which is what inspired me to do it. He got a good chuckle out of it.
posted by Doohickie at 4:18 PM on January 18, 2005

SpecialK... you scare me.
posted by Doohickie at 4:18 PM on January 18, 2005

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