A background check is an essential step in the process of obtaining a security clearance.
Federal positions and jobs in companies with federal contracts or grants may require employees to have a security clearance to access sensitive information; thus, ensuring that all federal employees are “reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and loyal to the United States.”
The security clearance application process, including the background check, is designed to determine an applicant’s trustworthiness and reliability before granting them access to national security information; protecting federal assets before granting individuals access to them.
Examples of agencies that may require higher levels of security clearance include:
- Intelligence community (e.g., Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency)
- Federal law enforcement agencies (e.g., Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, Naval Criminal Investigative Service)
- Diplomatic agencies (e.g., State Department, United States Agency for International Development)
- Civilian military agencies (e.g., Defense Intelligence Agency, Defense Security Service)
Once an agency determines to hire you, then they will offer you a job contingent upon you successfully obtaining a security clearance. If you accept the offer and submit your security clearance application (Standard Form 86 or sf-86), then the extensive background investigation will take place.
The type of background investigation will depend upon the requirements and level of security clearance needed for the position. This process can take from several months to a year plus depending on backlog, need for more information, depth of investigation, and other extenuating factors.
Below are some of the steps that can be expected during the background check process:
- Completed security package is submitted by HR of hiring agency to the State Department’s Office of Personnel Security and Suitability
- Security package is reviewed for completeness
- If complete, the security package is formally entered into a case management system
- National agency conducts a record check and scanned fingerprint check
- Case manager is assigned to oversee the investigation process
- Investigator is assigned to conduct the background investigation
- Applicants are contacted by an investigator for an in-person interview (usually within a few weeks of submission)
- Investigator verifies the information supplied in the security package; including talks to current and former neighbors, supervisors, co-workers and classmates, and references included in the package
- Investigator contacts law enforcement agencies in each of the places an individual has lived, worked or attended school
- Investigator submits their report
- Security clearance adjudicators review the report and weigh the results against existing adjudicative guidelines for security clearances
- Applicant is informed whether a security clearance has been granted (there may be extenuating factors that delay a decision or result in a denial of a security clearance)
A background check is a crucial part of the security clearance application process. Understanding what will be found during your background check and preparing for the process can make the difference between approval and denial. If you have any questions about the background check process, would like help mitigating any potential problems, or need help with the SF-86 application process in general, then we can help.