Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
The Personnel Security Program ensures that individuals who are being considered for access to classified information or special nuclear material (SNM) meet national standards of honesty, reliability, and trustworthiness. Because each Federal agency's program is similar, most questions come from personnel who have never had a security clearance (DOE calls it an access authorization) or who are confused because they had clearances at agencies that had requirements that differ slightly from DOE's. Additional information for applicants can be found at "Overview of Access Authorization Process for Applicants".
Q: How does drug use impact my ability to get an access authorization?
A: Use of illegal drugs, abuse of prescription drugs, and misuse of other substances such as inhalants raise concerns about an individual's eligibility for an access authorization. Such activities call into question the person's willingness to follow rules and requirements, reliability, and good judgment. In general, individuals involved with illegal drugs or substance abuse will not be granted an access authorization if the activity occurred within the year prior to the application for the access authorization. If the activity occurred within two years, the full circumstances surrounding the activity will be evaluated and the individual may qualify for an access authorization, although it is unlikely that he or she will do so. Information pertaining to drug use which occurred more than two years ago will not be automatically disqualifying for an access authorization but will be fully evaluated with all other available information in order to determine whether the individual should be granted an access authorization.
Q: I've heard that DOE is changing its policies on drug testing and the use of illegal drugs. What kind of changes will be made?
A: In late 2006, the Secretary established a task force to conduct a review of DOE's personnel security program. On March 15, 2007, the Secretary accepted the unanimous recommendations of the task force in several areas, including a recommendation to change and enhance the Department's policies regarding the use of illegal drugs. These changes could include establishing requirements for drug screening for applicants for access authorizations, and increasing the population subject to random and "for cause" (incident or reasonable suspicion) drug testing to include everyone who holds an access authorization. With regard to this last change, current drug use policies provide for including such positions in the "testing designated" category, although in many cases such individuals have been included in testing programs only if they fall under the Human Reliability Program.
Q: I've just been told that I need a background investigation in order to get a security clearance for a job I'm applying for. Is there somewhere I can get some information on that process?
A: The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) conducts the majority of background investigations for the Federal government. They have published a guide that answers some of the most frequently asked questions about the investigations process. You can find it on-line at https://www.opm.gov/investigations/investigations-faqs/.
Q: I saw an ad for a job with DOE. It said that I would need a DOE access authorization. What is that, exactly? Is it the same thing as a security clearance?
A: It is almost the same. A DOE access authorization is an administrative determination that an individual is eligible for access to classified material when required by his or her official duties, or is eligible for access to or control over special nuclear material. It is very similar to the security clearances granted by other Federal agencies for access to classified National Security Information. One major difference is that DOE access authorizations permit access to Restricted Data, a special category of classified information.
Q: I saw an advertisement for a job with a company that has a contract to perform work for DOE. The job sounds perfect for me, but the ad said that applicants must have a DOE access authorization. I don't have one. Can I still apply for this job?
A: Yes, you can definitely apply for the job. DOE requires that the following statement appear in advertisements for positions in which the selectee will need an access authorization: "Applicants selected will be subject to a Federal background investigation and must meet eligibility requirements for access to classified information or matter." Under certain conditions, a security clearance from another Federal agency, such as the Department of Defense, may provide a rapid path to obtaining a DOE access authorization under the recent reciprocity initiative. Moreover, requiring job applicants to hold an access authorization in order to apply for the job is not permitted under DOE regulations.
Q: I currently work for a company where I am required to have a Top Secret security clearance. If I apply for a job that requires a DOE access authorization, and I'm selected, will I have to have a new background investigation? I just had one two years ago.
A: If you have a current, Top Secret security clearance, and your investigation was completed within the previous five years, you won't need to have another investigation in order for DOE to grant you an access authorization. The access authorization will be granted based on "reciprocity:" the principle that a security clearance or access authorization at the same level granted by any authorized Federal agency must be recognized and accepted by all other agencies without making the individual complete new forms or undergo a new investigation. Under reciprocity, a final Secret clearance would result in an L access authorization and a final Top Secret clearance would support the granting of a Q access authorization from DOE. You would only need a new investigation if you were applying for a position that requires a higher type of access authorization than the one you hold. For example, if you hold a Secret clearance, and the position you are applying for requires a Top Secret (Q) access authorization a more extensive investigation will be required.
Q: What if my last investigation was completed 5 years ago?
A: DOE can still accept your current security clearance under the principles of reciprocity. But, Executive Order 12968 and its implementing documents, which govern the administration of security clearances and access authorizations within the Executive Branch, require that individuals who hold Top Secret clearances or Q access authorizations be investigated every 5 years. So, if your current employer hasn't already started an update investigation for you, you'll be asked to submit paperwork right away so that DOE can request the update.
Q: Back up a minute! You just mentioned a "Q" access authorization. What is that and how does it relate to the Top Secret, Secret, and Confidential clearance terminology I'm familiar with?
A: Top Secret, Secret, and Confidential security clearances refer back to the level of National Security Information to which an individual may have access. Because DOE is granting access to Restricted Data and special nuclear material, it uses different terminology. Generally speaking, there are two types of access authorizations, the L and the Q. The L access authorization corresponds to the background investigation and administrative determination similar to what is completed by other agencies for Confidential and Secret National Security Information access clearances and the Q access authorization corresponds to the background investigation and administrative determination similar to what is completed by other agencies for a Top Secret National Security Information access clearance. In addition, because RD information is more sensitive than NSI information, access to Secret Restricted Data requires a Q access authorization.
Q: I'm employed by a DOE contractor and I currently have a Q access authorization. I saw a job advertised in the paper that required a Top Secret clearance. Based on what you just said, would the agency that advertised that job accept my Q?
A: Under the reciprocity guidelines, a Q is the equivalent of a Top Secret. The investigation required for a Q is the same as the one required for a Top Secret, and with a Q an individual can be given access to Top Secret National Security Information if his or her duties require it. Unless the position in question has special requirements, your DOE Q should be accepted by the agency filling that job in the same way that DOE would accept a Top Secret clearance for a position requiring a Q.
Q: What do you mean by "special requirements?"
A: For access to some classified information, such as Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) or Special Access Programs (SAPS), additional requirements or special conditions may be imposed by the information owner even if the person is otherwise eligible to be granted a security clearance or access authorization based on reciprocity. Two common ones are the requirement for the individual to have a polygraph or counterintelligence polygraph examination before being hired, and the requirement that the individual not have any foreign-born relatives.
Q: Once I've been granted an access authorization, will I have to have another investigation?
A: Yes. Because individual circumstances can change in ways that might impact a person's ability to responsibly handle classified material, anyone who has an access authorization must be reinvestigated. Executive Order 12968 and its implementing documents require that individuals who hold a Q access authorization (or a Top Secret clearance) must be reinvestigated at least every 5 years. Someone who holds an L access authorization (or a Secret clearance) will be reinvestigated at least every 10 years. However, DOE is not required to wait 5 or 10 years before conducting the reinvestigation. A reinvestigation may be initiated at any time if the individual's conduct raises a security concern (for example, if the individual is arrested or frequently violates security procedures), or to determine that the individual has not repeated a pattern of conduct (such as drug use or financial issues) which might impact his or her continued eligibility for access to classified information.
Q: How do you determine if an individual can be granted an access authorization?
A: The decision to grant or deny an individual an access authorization is based on a review of information that he or she supplies and information that is gathered during the background investigation. All of the information, both positive and negative, is considered against a set of adjudicative guidelines which are promulgated by the White House as implementing documents for Executive Order 12968. Each guideline covers a broad security concern, the issues which may arise under that concern and the information which may mitigate the security concern. Personnel security specialists receive training in making decisions based on the guidelines and must document what they considered in deciding whether or not to recommend granting an access authorization to an individual. Information concerning the issues that are considered under the adjudicative guidelines can be found in 10 Code of Federal Regulations 710 (10 CFR 710), which outlines DOE's criteria for making access authorization determinations.
Q: What if DOE decides that I am not qualified for an access authorization? Do I have any right to appeal the decision?
A: Yes. If DOE proposes not to grant an access authorization to an individual, a formal process called Administrative Review (AR) is implemented. AR ensures that the individual is granted full due process rights, including the right to see all the information that has been used to make the determination and to present any information that he or she wants to have on the record. Information concerning the AR process can be found in 10 CFR 710.
Q: How can I get a copy of the information in my personnel security file?
A: Information in your personnel security file falls into two categories, the information you provide to DOE and which DOE develops about you; and the information which is collected about you by the investigative agencies during a background investigation. You can obtain copies of information DOE develops about you and copies of items such as your security forms directly from DOE by making a request to the Privacy Act officer at the site where the personnel security office that handled your file is located. Copies of your background investigation must be requested from the Privacy Act officer at the agency that conducted the investigation. The request should include your full name, social security number, date and place of birth, signature, and home address. For the Office of Personnel Management, which conducts the majority of DOE's investigations, the request should be sent to: FOI/PA, OPM-FIPC, P. O. Box 618, Boyers, PA 16018-0618.