The security clearance approval process has been thrust into the national spotlight now that there is a newly elected president.
Increased discussion of the clearance topic has been fueled by reports that President-elect Donald Trump inquired about security clearance for his children. A member of Trump’s transition team recently told USA Today that Trump “did not request or begin paperwork to have his children gain top-level security clearance,” despite reports stating otherwise.
Regardless of whether Trump asked about clearance for his children, the topic is a timely discussion because a new president means security clearance investigations will be conducted on candidates for cabinet positions.
It’s a good time to provide a refresher on the clearance process and how it works, since it’s likely to be a discussion topic well into January when Trump is inaugurated.
As far as Trump’s cabinet goes, Trump nominates members who are then presented to the Senate. The Senate confirms or rejects each candidate by a simple majority, thanks to a November 2013 change by the Democrats called the “nuclear option.” It eliminated the requirement that at least 60 senators vote in favor of the appointment, according to The Washington Post.
The FBI will conduct the background investigations for high-level presidential appointees and members of Trump’s cabinet.
With the presidential cabinet and routine positions that require clearance, security clearances are less about the people who have them and more about the duties those people are expected to perform. This is what the Department of State website says about it:
“The Bureau of Human Resources determines if a Department of State position requires a security clearance based on the duties and responsibilities of the position. If the position requires access to classified information, the position will be given an appropriate security classification. Individuals applying to these positions must undergo a personnel security background investigation.”
The need to obtain security clearance begins with a job offer for a position that will require it. Once you’ve been offered a job that requires clearance, you must complete the SF-86 – Questionnaire for National Security Positions – and other forms in the security clearance package as part of the background investigation process.
The background investigation is designed to confirm that your personal and career-related history “indicates loyalty to the United States, strength of character, trustworthiness, honesty, reliability, discretion, and sound judgment,” according to the Department of State. Investigators also seek to confirm that you don’t have any allegiances to foreign countries that might leave you susceptible to compromising classified information. Finally, the investigation seeks to establish that you will adhere to regulations that govern how classified information is used, handled and protected.
We recommend getting assistance from an attorney who specializes in security clearance law when completing the security clearance package, because completing the forms accurately and in their entirety the first time helps speed along the process.
“Not having a security clearance can prevent you from performing all of the requirements of your job,” says Catie Young, a California security clearance attorney. “Filling out the clearance paperwork properly the first time eliminates many potential obstacles that can slow the approval process, or even block approval of your application.”
Once the information is received and entered into a case management system, background checks of fingerprints, records and contacts are conducted.
A report of findings is compiled, and security clearance adjudicators “weigh the results against existing adjudicative guidelines for security clearances,” according to the Department of State.
Please call our office for a consultation if you would like to learn more about how attorneys who specialize in security clearance law can help you navigate the paperwork and investigation process.