Security Clearances in the Nuclear Security Enterprise

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A security clearance, also known as an access authorization, is an administrative determination that an individual is eligible for access to classified information or special nuclear material. The clearance process involves collecting and evaluating information about an individual’s background to determine their judgment, reliability, and honesty. In order to accomplish this, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducts various types of background investigations which may consist of a fingerprint check, credit search, records check, and interviews with individuals to verify the applicant’s character, loyalty, current and past residences, employment, and education.

 

What's Required?

The following are required as part of the investigative process:

Department of Energy Acquisition Regulation Security Clause for Contractors

In accordance with 48 CFR Parts 904, 952 and 970, all contracts and subcontracts involving Department of Energy (DOE) access authorizations will require background reviews, and tests for the absence of any illegal drug, as defined in DOE regulations of uncleared personnel (employment applicants and current employees), who will require access authorizations. Background reviews are not required for DOE access authorizations applicants who possess a current access authorization from another Federal agency or whose access authorization may be re-approved without a federal background investigation pursuant to Executive Order 12968.

Drug Testing

The DOE Order 472.2, Personnel Security requires negative results of a drug test taken within 60 calendar days of the individual’s SF-86 or SF-86C signature date.

e-Fingerprint Submission

Currently under NNSA policy, all federal and contractor employees that are applying for a DOE security clearance must have their fingerprints electronically submitted prior to submitting the applicant package or being initiated into the electronic Questionnaire for National Security Positions database (e-QIP).

e-QIP Completion

Once you've successfully completed your drug testing and e-fingerprint submission, your site security office will invite you to the e-QIP portal where you will log in and complete your SF-86. Questions on the SF-86 relate to residence, employment, education, arrests, foreign association, finances, drug/alcohol use, etc. Once the SF-86 is completed and certified, it is released electronically through e-QIP to the Cognizant Personnel Security Office where it is reviewed and released to National Background Investigations Bureau or FBI; initiating the background investigation. The Cognizant Personnel Security Office for the NNSA field is the Office of Personnel and Facility Clearances and Classification, NA-74.
 

The Clearance Process
The NNSA Security Clearance Process

Once the National Background Investigations Bureau/FBI receives a complete and correct e-QIP package, an investigation is scheduled which typically includes various record checks (employment, criminal, credit, etc.), and depending on the level of investigation and information present, an enhanced subject interview with the individual and interviews with neighbors, co-workers and references. The length of time for completion of the investigation depends on the type of investigation that is necessary and other factors including the presence of derogatory information and the existing workload of the investigative agency. Once the investigation is complete, the National Background Investigations Bureau or FBI sends the Office of Personnel and Facility Clearances and Classification the background investigation to adjudicate and render a decision regarding the security clearance. The timelines associated with the entire process depends on the type of clearance requested and the complexity of the case. See Clearance Adjudication for more information on how a decision is reached.

Clearance Adjudication

The Administrative Review process allows an individual with unresolved derogatory information to request a hearing and present his/her case in front of an Administrative Judge. The burden is on the individual to present documentation, through exhibits and/or testimony, to support why the clearance should be granted and/or restored. Following the hearing, the Administrative Judge will make a decision. The decision can be challenged by the respondent or DOE through the appeal process. Detailed information can be found in the Title 10 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 710, Procedures for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Matter and Special Nuclear Material.

The following steps will occur in determining your eligibility for access authorization in accordance with the 10 CFR 710:

  • When the Director of the Office of Personnel and Facility Clearances and Classification has recommended initiation of an Administrative Review or suspension of a security clearance (access authorization) based on a serious concern, then the office must request, within ten days, approval to initiate an Administrative Review from the Director, Office of Departmental Personnel Security at DOE Headquarters (HQ).
  • The individual will receive a Notification Letter from the Office of Personnel and Facility Clearances and Classification when HQ approves the Administrative Review. The Summary of Security Concerns attached to the Notification Letter specifically states each concern DOE has in relation to the individual’s clearance.
  • Upon receipt of the Notification Letter, the individual will be given the opportunity to:
    • Request an Administrative Review hearing:
      • The purpose of the Administrative Review hearing is to provide an individual with the opportunity to present their case to a third-party Administrative Judge. If the individual requests a hearing, the required written response may address each specific DOE concern listed in the Summary of Security Concerns. The response must be returned to the Office of Personnel and Facility Clearances and Classification within 20 calendar days from receipt of the Notification Letter. During the hearing, the individual may be represented by an attorney of choice, at the individual’s expense.
      • A copy of relevant documents from the personnel security file will be released during the discovery phase of the hearing for use in preparation.
      • The individual will receive a copy of the hearing transcript after the hearing has been conducted.
      • The administrative record will be forwarded by the Office of Hearings and Appeals, HQ, to the Director, Office of Personnel and Facility Clearances and Classification (OPFCC). The OPFCC will provide the individual with a copy of both the administrative record and the Administrative Judge’s decision, and outline the appeal rights if the decision is unfavorable. If the decision is favorable, then OPFCC and DOE HQ have the right to appeal. Should an appeal be filed, the case will go before a DOE Appeal Panel for a final decision.
    • Request an initial decision regarding your clearance be made by the Office of Personnel and Facility Clearances and Classification Director:
      • The Director of Office of Personnel and Facility Clearances and Classification will make an initial decision regarding the security clearance if the individual declines a hearing. A written response should reflect this declination. Additional information may also be provided to the Director for assessment regarding each specific DOE concern listed in the Notification Letter.
      • This initial decision will be forwarded to the individual in approximately 30 days. If the decision is unfavorable, the correspondence will outline the individual’s appeal rights. Should the individual file an appeal, the case will go before a DOE Appeal Panel for a final decision.
    • The Office of Personnel and Facility Clearances and Classification will notify the employer of the final clearance decision.
Administrative Review

DOE Order 472.2, Personnel Security, sets forth reporting requirements for all DOE employees, contractors, and others involved in applying for or holding a DOE access authorization. A listing of items that must be reported, with specific time frames, can be found in Attachment 4 of the Order.

Security clearance applicants and holders who are approached by an individual seeking unauthorized access to classified information or SNM or who experience any other potentially counterintelligence-related incidents, must report this information in accordance with DOE O 475.1, Counterintelligence Program, dated 12-10-04, or any successor directive. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Clearance Processing

How long does it take to get a clearance? Timeframes may vary depending on the level of clearance, type of background investigation, the complexity of the case, and the existing workload of the investigative agency.

What would cause my clearance to be delayed? Reasons for a delay in the processing of a clearance can be attributed to both the investigative process as well as the adjudicative process. The investigation process can be delayed if it requires extensive efforts in pursuit of obtaining sufficient background information (i.e. foreign residence, foreign employment, law enforcement). Delays in adjudication can be a result of adjudicative actions (ex. letters of interrogatory, personnel security interviews, psychiatric evaluations) necessary to address all security concerns in a case.  

Clearance Adjudication

What could cause my clearance to be denied or revoked? Derogatory information does not automatically disqualify candidates from being able to obtain a security clearance. Denials and revocations are a result of the inability to resolve serious derogatory information. For more information on what is considered derogatory information, see the National Security Adjudicative Guidelines.

What if I hold a clearance with another government agency? A DOE clearance of equal or lower level can be granted through reciprocity if you are currently employed and hold an active security clearance with another federal agency.

What happens if I am being processed for a clearance and I have not filed my federal and state taxes as required? Filing Federal and State taxes as required is a law and not filing taxes or an extension is a violation of the law and as a result is a security concern. This will require adjudicative actions. 

Can I be processed for a clearance if I have filed bankruptcy? Yes. Filing bankruptcy is a legitimate means of financial resolution. However, each case will be considered on its own merits. Most cases require adjudicative action in order to assess the specific circumstances leading to the bankruptcy.  

Is treatment for a mental health related condition an automatic disqualifier for obtaining/maintaining a DOE security clearance? No. The mere fact of counseling or therapy for a mental health related condition will not automatically disqualify an individual for a clearance. Most cases require adjudicative action in order to assess the specific circumstances.  

I do not use illegal drugs, but my relative/roommate does, is that something the DOE would be concerned about? Yes. The DOE is concerned with candidates who associate with those who use illegal drugs. A candidate, who associates with known illegal drug users, is thereby associating with persons involved in criminal activity; which raises questions about that candidate's reliability, trustworthiness and ability to protect classified information. 

In some states, the use of recreational and/or medical marijuana is considered legal. What is DOE’s policy on this? Even if marijuana (for recreational and/or medical purposes) is considered legal according to state law, marijuana is an illegal drug according to Federal law.

Incident Reports

Do I have to report identity theft? No. If you have been a victim of identity theft, this can be covered during your next reinvestigation or if an applicant, during the initial background investigation.

Do I have to report the arrest of any of my family members? No. This is not reportable unless during the process of the arrest the clearance holder or applicant is charged with any crime.

Administrative Review

My clearance has been suspended, can I get it back? Possibly, by participating in the Administrative Review process which allows an individual due process and an opportunity to address the security concerns identified in the adjudicative process. Please see Administrative Review for more information.

I am an applicant for a clearance and I have been initiated into  Administrative Review, what does this mean regarding my clearance? You are afforded an opportunity to participate in the process. Please see Administrative Review for more information.

Do I have to be represented by an attorney at my hearing? No. The decision to be represented by legal counsel is at your discretion and at your cost. Please see Administrative Review for more information.

If my clearance is denied or revoked, can I appeal that decision? Yes. Please see Administrative Review for more information.

If my clearance gets denied or revoked, will I ever be able to hold a clearance in the future? You may request “Reconsideration” if 12 months have elapsed and you have a bona fide offer of employment which requires a DOE clearance. For more information, please reference 10 CFR 710.31.

Glossary of terms used

Applicants

An Applicant is anyone who is applying for a DOE security clearance (access authorization) that has not held one previously. Individuals who are U.S. citizens and are at least 18 years of age may be processed for or granted a clearance.

Completed Background Investigation Request
The Office of Personnel Management National Background Investigations Bureau will release an investigation when it is completed and closed. For more information on how to obtain a copy of your background investigation conducted by the National Background Investigations Bureau’s Federal Investigative Services Division, please contact the bureau directly.

Continuous Evaluation

A personnel security investigative process to review the background of a covered individual who has been determined to be eligible for access to classified information or to hold a sensitive position at any time during the period of eligibility.

Downgrades

In accordance with DOE O 472.2, a downgrade of an employee’s access authorization may be requested by an employer to address new access requirements associated with the duties of the position.

Leave of Absence Requests

In accordance with DOE O 472.2, an individual’s security clearance must be administratively withdrawn (terminated) when the individual’s circumstances temporarily eliminate the need for access to classified information or special nuclear materials for 90 calendar days or more (i.e. temporary change of duties, maternity or other extended leave [including leave covered under the Family Medical Leave Act], detail to another agency, military deployment, etc.). If the termination of the clearance is not in the best interest of the Department, the Cognizant Personnel Security Office may waive the termination, should details of a particular case clearly demonstrate that such action is in the best interest of the Department.

Reciprocity

Through reciprocity, an individual will be granted a DOE security clearance expeditiously when an active eligibility or security clearance is held with another federal agency. The Office of Personnel and Facility Clearances and Classification will verify the clearance with the other agency to ensure the investigation meets the scope and standards required for the requested security clearance. Once the verification is complete the applicant is granted an access authorization.

Reemployment/Reinstatement Waivers

In accordance with DOE O 472.2, an individual’s security clearance must be administratively withdrawn (terminated) when the individual’s employment/contract ends, or when it is determined that a security clearance is no longer required. If the termination of the clearance is for 60 calendar days or less resulting from a temporary employment termination or reassignment with a Contractor, the Cognizant Personnel Security Office may consider and waive the termination when the contractor verifies that the individual will be reemployed or reassigned by the same Contractor within the next 60 calendar days to a position that will require a security clearance.

Reinstatements/Re-approves

In accordance with DOE Order 472.2, Personnel Security, when an individual formerly held a security clearance, the clearance may be reinstated or reapproved if specific conditions apply. The reinstatement procedure may require new security forms and/or an updated investigation.

Reinvestigation

Reinvestigations are designed to ensure individuals with security clearances are periodically reevaluated at intervals, determined by national standards, to determine their continued need and eligibility for a security clearance.

Temporary Upgrades

In certain circumstances an urgent operational necessity requires an individual to gain a one-time, short duration of higher-level access. This can be authorized only when the reason is compelling and in furtherance of the mission.

Terminations

In accordance with DOE O 472.2, the Cognizant Personnel Security Office must terminate an individual’s security clearance within two days of receipt of a verbal or written notification that an individual no longer requires access to classified information or matter.

Upgrades

In accordance with DOE Order 472.2, an upgrade of an employee’s access authorization may be requested by an employer to address new access requirements associated with the duties of the position.