With few exceptions, a single security clearance can open doors across government.
IT professionals and others who have endured rigorous background checks, extensive personal investigations and often-excruciating waiting periods to attain government clearances may not realize that those credentials translate widely across agencies.
Security credentials are recognized well beyond the agency that originally bestowed a clearance on a specific individual, according to guidelines in place at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
“A prior investigation or personnel security determination concerning an individual’s eligibility for access to classified information or assignment to sensitive duties made by another agency of the federal government is mutually and reciprocally accepted by all DOD components, as long as there is no break in service longer than 24 months and inquiry discloses no reason why the clearance should not be accepted,” said Major Patrick Ryder, a DOD spokesman.
In fact, OMB as directed by Congress must work to ensure that the security clearance process runs as smoothly as possible. The goal is to rush credentialed applicants to the many agencies and government contractors now struggling to keep up with national security threats, new homeland security efforts and other classified or sensitive initiatives.
OMB works in tandem with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) on security clearance procedures, according to OPM Associate Director Kathy Dillaman. “The oversight of the security clearance process, including the enforcement of reciprocity, was assigned to OMB as a result of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. OPM supports OMB’s oversight efforts,” Dillaman said.
This uniform recognition of security clearances across agencies not only makes life easier for government officials, it also opens a lot of doors for individuals looking for intelligence or government security-related jobs with agencies or government contractors, said Robert Esti, Founder, President and CEO of ClearedConnections, the online resource for security cleared professionals.
“We frequently get calls from applicants who are unclear as to whether they can use security clearances attained from one agency to apply for a position at another facility. It is extremely important for an applicant to be aware of these reciprocity rules, simply because candidates need to know about all of the positions they may qualify for,” said Esti.
However, just knowing the rules on reciprocity is not always enough to land an applicant a sought-after, secured position. Many agencies simply do not post a number of classified jobs, due to security restrictions. Hence, using ClearedConnections -- an online repository of active resumes accessible only to cleared government and contractor facilities – becomes extremely important, Esti continued.
“Through ClearedConnections, hiring officials at cleared facilities continually tap a pool of applicants. This way, applicants don’t have to constantly scout for positions that may in fact not be publicly-posted. Instead, the job can come to the candidate,” said Esti.
While government jobs requiring security clearances are not always posted publicly, government hiring officials do have electronic access to a lot of information on applicants. Specifically, OPM has put in place an internal government database that lets agency personnel share security clearance-related information. This tool was designed explicitly to facilitate reciprocity and can prove especially helpful when coupled with a system that houses security clearance-related information with the Department of Defense (DOD), OPM’s Dillaman added.
“OPM has developed a national database that is linked to DOD’s database containing the current and historic clearance and investigation history for 90 percent of the government’s clearances,” Dillaman described. “This database allows agencies to confirm the subject’s clearance status online, making transfer possible across government.”
OPM’s database is dubbed the Clearance Verification System (CVS), while DOD’s system is known as the Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS). Meanwhile, the Intelligence Community maintains several similar databases. OMB directs agencies that do not have access to these repositories to submit written ‘Inter-Agency Clearance Verification Requests’ to the relevant agencies, according to OMB documents.
The White House early on stressed its commitment to the smooth transfer of security clearances across agencies when the President signed a 2005 Executive Order titled ‘Strengthening Process Relating to Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified National Security Information.’
The President’s Order was written to solidify “the appropriate uniformity, centralization, efficiency, effectiveness, timeliness and reciprocity of determining eligibility for access to classified national security information,” according to a more detailed OMB memorandum alerting top agency officials of changes contained in the Order. (The memorandum to agency heads can be found at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/memoranda/fy2005/m05-17.pdf )
OMB has since refined the details of reciprocity in a July 2006 memorandum titled ‘Reciprocal Recognition of Existing Personnel Security Clearances,’ which is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/memoranda/fy2006/m06-21.pdf (See related sidebars for more information on reciprocity rules that were put in place last July).
“OMB is quite clear on the rules for reciprocity when it comes to applicants holding security clearances. However, it is often the candidates themselves who remain unclear as to just how many opportunities they have,” said Esti.
Headline: Who’s Who in Reciprocity
Subhed: Several agencies have roles in the transferability of clearances
• Office of Management and Budget (OMB) – Provides policy directives and general oversight, supervision and review of agencies working independently to determine the eligibility of individuals to access classified national security information;
• Office of Personnel Management (OPM) – Hands-on oversight and monitoring of security clearance investigations and tracking the results of those investigations and the development of tools to enhance the flow of investigations and the granting of clearances;
• Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) – Monitoring and supervision of SCI-related investigations that those that fall within the Intelligence community (Also, ODNI has the final say when questions arise as to the appropriateness of reciprocation between agencies);
• Departments of State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, Energy, Homeland Security and Central Intelligence Agencies – individual adjudication of eligibility and regular consultation with OPM and ODNI;
**Source: June 30, 2005 OMB Memorandum for Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, titled “Allocation of Responsibilities for Security Clearances under the Executive Order, Strengthening Processes Relating to Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified National Security Information”
Headline: Minimizing Red Tape
Subhed: The White House wants a smooth flow of secured personnel
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recognizes that agencies must sometimes impose additional requirements on applicants holding security clearances issued by other departments or branches of government.
However, OMB officials want to keep added requirements to a minimum and nix any agency efforts to duplicate the investigative and administrative work that went into issuing an existing security clearance. Further, OMB has directed agencies to strive to determine eligibility on 80 percent of all requests within 30 days.
The goal is for agencies to promote reciprocity and avoid duplication. Therefore, government officials reviewing candidates with active security clearances may not do the following:
• Ask an applicant to complete a new security questionnaire ;
• Review existing background investigations;
• Review existing security questionnaires;
• Initiate any new investigative checks.
However, agency officials can revisit investigations and background documents in certain instances, such as those cases where existing clearances were granted on a temporary basis or in instances in which the existing clearance proves outdated.
**Source: July 17, 2006 OMB Memorandum for Deputies of Executive Departments and Agencies, titled “Reciprocal Recognition of Existing Personnel Security Clearances”
Headline: Isolated Exceptions
Subhed: In limited cases, agencies may ask for more information from a cleared candidate
Although agencies must adhere to OMB’s reciprocity standards and avoid duplication, there are cases when government officials may ask for additional information.
For instance, individuals with active security clearances seeking positions that involve Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) and Special Access Programs (SAPs) may be subjected to the following:
• Polygraph examinations;
• Disqualification based on non-U.S. immediate family members;
• Submission of current SF 86 (Questionnaire for National Security Positions) or SF 86C (Standard Form 86 Certification) – both forms are viewable at http://www.opm.gov/forms/html/sf.asp
**Source: July 17, 2006 Memorandum for Deputies of Executive Departments and Agencies, titled “Reciprocal Recognition of Existing Personnel Security Clearances”