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  1. #1
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    Clearing up confusion, Background Investigation vs SECRET Clearance

    I think it's important to have this discussion because it seems there are a lot of folks I have spoke with who mistakingly believe they have a SECRET clearance when in fact they only have a background investigation. Having recently navigated the process myself I think I can shed some light.

    Contrary to popular belief the type of form you fill out on the EQIP or hardcopy has everything to do with whether or not you have a Security clearance or a background investigation. For instance, an SF-85 is for non-sensitive positions and only traces your life back 5 years. This is only a background investigation and I know from personal experience in my region every officer fills this out and it is only when you attain rank (i.e. Sgt or Lt) that you get authorized for a SECRET clearance investigation and thus have to fill out the appropriate paperwork.

    An SF-85P & SF-85PS are questionnaires for positions that require public trust and do a more extensive investigation into the last 7 years of your life. The SF-85PS is the supplemental questionnaire that accompanies the SF-85P and dives into mental health and particulars on past drug use. The Bureau of Prisons for instance sent me an EQIP invite to fill out this questionnaire after I was offered a CO position with them. Once again this is not a 'clearance' just a background investigation.

    Now if you have filled out an SF-86 on EQIP or the hard copy and you were approved then and only then do you have a SECRET clearance. This can be verified by either your security manager OR on one of your training websites that allows you to view all of your training records.

    I don't know why but it drives me NUTS when I hear every Tom, Dick, and Harry say they have a clearance when I know they only filled out an SF-85. The amount of money the government would have to spend getting every DOD officer a SECRET clearance would be unsightly, not to mention I'd be willing to bet that half of the employees would be disqualified due to information they didn't report and was uncovered in the more extensive security clearance investigation.

    Prior to taking this DOD job I too thought that every officer was vetted for a SECRET clearance because every USA jobs announcement seemingly advertises like it is, so it was pretty surprising to sit down with my security manager and be explained the process and the misinformation many out there have about an approved background investigation versus a security clearance.

  2. #2
    Forum Member AZDesertRat's Avatar
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    The simple fact that you completed a SF86 vs SF85 does not mean you "have" a clearance. In order to get and hold a clearance, you must complete a SF86, be adjudicated, and have a need to access restricted information. Only then will you "have" a clearance, and only to see the information that you are required to know to perform your job's duties.

    Many positions require that you complete a SF86 and complete the adjudication process, but do not require the access to restricted information, so you do not "have" a clearance, only the ability to get one should you need it.

    This last one was the case with the CNRMA. All officers were required to be cleared at a Secret level, but few actually had the clearance. At my former facility, we were required to obtain a back dated clearance due to a new commander at a facility noticing that his command was in violation of protocol by having us accessing his facility to conduct security checks on nights and weekends, as we did not have clearances. This cause an issue with some officers who were unable to successfully obtain a clearance due to credit issues that had gone unnoticed in their 5 and 10 year reviews.

    After that, officers were required to certify annually that they met all the requirements to obtain and keep a secret level, and that if they failed to do so they could be terminated with cause.

  3. #3
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    My apologies, I assumed folks knew one needs to be adjudicated. Overall I think the point is clear that many mistakingly believe they have a SECRET clearance when in fact they don't. Onus should fall on both the employer and the employee. The majority of vacancy announcements I have seen for 0083 are written in a way that would lead the employee to believe he would be investigated and granted a clearance upon favorable adjudication; however, it's also the employees responsibility to conduct their due diligence and find out what exactly they are being investigated and approved for.

    On a side note I was actually appalled to find out the Navy civilian police force only conducts SF-85 investigations for non-sensitive positions on it's 'officers.' Maybe that's why so many bad ones slip through the cracks. One would think you don't get more sensitive than being a police officer but I guess this just ads more fuel to the "not real cops" fire.

  4. #4
    Tinfoil Hat Engineer sgt jon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by caseyp View Post
    On a side note I was actually appalled to find out the Navy civilian police force only conducts SF-85 investigations for non-sensitive positions on it's 'officers.' Maybe that's why so many bad ones slip through the cracks. One would think you don't get more sensitive than being a police officer but I guess this just ads more fuel to the "not real cops" fire.
    While the process and what is actually done by way of background checks, suitability determinations and subsequent adjudication for access to classified information and systems varies according to the particulars of the assignment, the SF-85 “process” tends to identify issues that would prohibit a person from occupying a “position of public trust”. These would include disqualifying convictions; criminal history and the like.

    I trust you understand that the process in which a person is vetted for a clearance and access is a completely different process that that used to determine suitability as a law enforcement officer. While there are certainly some parallels and similarities in the process, the adjudication for clearance and access applies a different rubric than that used for evaluating suitability to be a cop.

    I would add that just because someone is cleared for access to TS/SCI DOES NOT equate to suitability as a LEO. Conversely, not being able to pass adjudication for access to the same level of access does not equate to unsuitability as a LEO. Different animals in different zoos.
    Quote Originally Posted by SSD View Post
    It has long been the tradition on this forum and as well as professionally not to second guess or Monday morning QB the officer's who were actually on-scene and had to make the decision. That being said, I don't think that your discussion will go very far on this board.
    Quote Originally Posted by Iowa #1603 View Post
    And now you are arguing about not arguing..................

  5. #5
    Gimme Yo Acorns, Sucka! QuietPro's Avatar
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    An excellent post, sgt jon. I frequently get asked by several people looking to transfer from DoD to VA, thinking that a current DoD Secret clearance will get them through the background faster. Even I initially thought this when I hired.

    Unfortunately, the answer is a big fat NO......
    Just another squirrel, tryin' to get a nut......

  6. #6
    Tinfoil Hat Engineer sgt jon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by QuietPro View Post
    An excellent post, sgt jon. I frequently get asked by several people looking to transfer from DoD to VA, thinking that a current DoD Secret clearance will get them through the background faster. Even I initially thought this when I hired.

    Unfortunately, the answer is a big fat NO......
    QuietPro,
    Thank you for the kind note.

    While I certainly understand how security clearances and position suitability are often intermixed and frequently share some of the same traits, each has its own adjudicative process and companion guidelines. I know lots of outstanding professionals in and out of LE but some of whom would not make the cut in the other field because of suitability issues. Apples and oranges.

    For security clearances, the “whole person” approach is applied when adjudicating the investigation and making a final determination. While position suitability determinations tend to use a similar approach, it is a different process and which does not provide for the same appeal/redress process as that of a security clearance.

    I would also add that just because someone is found suitable as a LEO at one agency/department DOES NOT mean that they will be found suitable at another agency/department. This is more so the case outside the Fed, but even within a person may not realize success with a given agency despite a fruitful career with another agency.
    Quote Originally Posted by SSD View Post
    It has long been the tradition on this forum and as well as professionally not to second guess or Monday morning QB the officer's who were actually on-scene and had to make the decision. That being said, I don't think that your discussion will go very far on this board.
    Quote Originally Posted by Iowa #1603 View Post
    And now you are arguing about not arguing..................

  7. #7
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    Isn't there some way to validate on a personal level if one has a clearance or not?

    For example, mine is on my ERB and my Reserve Record, but I don't get to walk around with any sort of credentials. All I know is my name is on so list somewhere, and if I were to get employment requiring that clearance the employer would reference the agency overseeing that “list”. Yes?
    _____________
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  8. #8
    Forum Member AZDesertRat's Avatar
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    It would depend on the servicing agency, and how they operate. DoN has DoNCAF, and they can verify that a person had a clearance. The issue is the same, just because you had a clearance with the Navy, doesn't mean that you will be given a clearance with the Army, or FBI or another alphabet agency. While many employers will make a condition of employment that you must "have" XXX level clearance, you never leave an agency with a clearance. You go, your clearance stays. You must apply, be screened and adjudicated all over again by the new classification authority.

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