Is it easy to get a security clearance? It depends on who you ask. Among the uncleared population there sometimes is a misperception that anyone can get a clearance, based on the millions of clearance-holders out there. In 2013, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper criticized the size of the cleared workforce in a memo that called for reducing the number of individuals with access to intelligence. Recently released figures show a 12 percent decline in the size of the cleared workforce.
Those who have gone through the security clearance process understand the significant headaches involved in both the initial background investigation as well as periodic reinvestigations. Obtaining a security clearance is no easy task, and not everyone who applies will be granted access.
The same ODNI report that outlined reductions in the cleared workforce provided insight into the rate of denials within the intelligence community, as well as the reasons behind significant delays in security clearance processing time.
The National Security Agency denied the most applicants–9.2 percent. The National Reconnaissance Office and the Central Intelligence Agency had the next greatest number of denials, at 7.4 percent and 6.5 percent, respectively. These numbers might seem relatively low, but there’s a reason for that. Stringent suitability requirements, particularly in the intelligence community, weed out many unqualified applicants before they ever reach security clearance processing.
Most intelligence jobs are excepted service positions. This means an applicant can be denied a position based on employment suitability—and the government is not required to provide a specific reason. If this is the case, an applicant hasn’t been denied a clearance, but rather denied employment after already submitting a security clearance application.
Adjudicative criteria are the most significant cause of delays, according to ODNI’s 2014 report. A candidate could have debt, drug problems, emotional issues, foreign family members or some combination of these 13 guidelines used to establish eligibility. Of the single issues causing significant security clearance delays, foreign influence is No. 1 on the list and financial trouble is two.
Does this mean every candidate who has declared bankruptcy or has credit card debt will be denied a clearance? Or that anyone with a foreign-born spouse is unclearable? Not at all. A critical element in the security clearance adjudicative process is the “whole-person“ concept. That means an applicant is evaluated based on the host of criteria provided, including any mitigating information. If you had significant credit card debt caused by medical issues, but then contacted your creditors to set up a payment plan, your situation will be considered more favorably than someone with a shopping habit.
Lindy Kyzer is the editor of ClearanceJobs.com and a former Defense Department employee.