Clearance Overview

A Quick Overview of the Security Clearance Process

There are three levels of Security Clearances: Confidential, Secret and Top Secret. These are the primary Security Clearance levels used throughout the Government. The Department of Energy (DOE) uses the “L” level and the “Q” level. L level is the equivalent of a Secret clearance and the Q level is the equivalent of a Top Secret clearance. A Standard Form (SF) 86 is completed by the applicant for these security clearances.

In addition there is what is called “Trustworthiness Investigations”. In spite of their name, these are not Security Clearances. They are requested when an applicant is going to have access to Sensitive but Unclassified Information or occupy a position of “Public Trust”. They are also requested on people who will have access to a sensitive site or facility. A Standard Form (SF) 85 or SF 85P is completed by the applicant for these access positions.

There are three phases to the above processes.

  • The Application Process.
  • The Investigation Process.
  • The Adjudication Process.


When the Application Process phase (filling out the security forms) is incomplete, sloppy, full of mistakes and lacks required information, it can and will affect the other phase(s). This possibly could cause a person to have his Security Clearance delayed or rejected.

Sometimes people are denied a Security Clearance largely because they left out important information that could have mitigated security or suitability issues or concerns.  

Many times these situations could be avoided.

As a career field agent for 25 years I had worked just about every type of case imaginable, I would find it incredible that some people would spend more time researching for a digital camera or comparing televisions, etc, than they would on their own Security Clearance process.  It would be astounding how many cases came across my desk for field work from people who clearly did not understand how important it was to dedicate some time and effort to correctly explain their backgrounds. Yes, researching a camera or televison before purchasing is smart. Being proactive in acquiring one's Security Clearance can have wonderful and positive ripple effects. However, just sitting back passively could result in a clearance denial, major delays and rejection.
If there ever was a time to be proactive, the security clearance process is one of those times.

This application process is for your Security Clearance, it concerns your background investigation, take the process seriously. Your actions, efforts and involvement can factor the end results. This will have a direct affect on you, the applicant.

It was not amazing or surprising that many of the same indivuals who were not proactive in their own Security Clearance paperwork would suddenly be faced with a clearance denial or major delays. The security clearance applicant would panic, and sometimes leave their positions or obtain the services of an attorney and begin the process of appealing the Government’s decision.

Filling out the security forms properly and completely will move your investigation along, possibly ahead of others who didn’t put the proper effort in. In return your case will move to adjudication (resolution) more quickly. In addition, if any security or suitability issues are present in your case, how you present that information in your forms and during your Subject Interview with the Investigator can affect how quickly your case is processed and adjudicated.


We have a saying in our profession (Federal Background Investigators): “In God We Trust, Investigate Everyone Else”. As an investigator, I always told the Subject (person undergoing the Background Investigation) the old adage our mothers taught us as children: “always tell the truth”.

As they say, mothers are always right. I have watched and listened to every type of lie in this business and witnessed people being denied Security Clearances over such intentional lies. Many times if they had been initially truthful they would have been issued a Security Clearance, for many issues can and often are mitigated. Unfortunately, I have also witnessed many good people being denied a clearance or having major delays, due to various and preventable mistakes.

Intentional dishonesty and material falsification is a fast way to be denied a security clearance.

The field agents and support personnel who conduct your background investigation are intelligent, competent and professional. They have been well trained and their “street smarts” have been well honed & tested. In other words, they have great insight about people and their behavior. Make no mistake-you will be dealing with skilled professionals who will have access to all relevant record information, databases, personal, and professional information about you. Additionally, they are quite experienced in locating and interviewing just about anyone who has ever known, had contact with or been associated with you, both currently and in your past.  


Adjudicators are highly trained personnel who review the many investigative reports and documentation about an individual and determine their eligibility for being granted or denied a security clearance.

When making such decisions they consider many factors, such as past and present behavior, conduct, truthfulness, a person’s judgment, and a whole range of other factors, both good and bad.  They use what they call “the whole person concept”.

Being denied a Security Clearance or faced with a Letter of Intent (LOI) to be denied a Security Clearance from the Government isn't fun and it is at that point that many applicants sit up and wonder if they should have paid more attention to the whole process from the beginning. People are ultimately responsible for themselves and set their own priorities in life. Be proactive.