The Big Business Of Security Clearances

Have you ever wondered about Secret and Top Secret jobs?  What are they? What are the history/origins of security clearances? What do people with Secret and Top Secret clearances do for a living? What type of information do they have access to? What’s the difference between Secret and Top Secret? What does it cost to obtain a security clearance?Man gesturing silence.

Because CPI is a DoD cleared facility, we can unravel a bit of the mystery behind such questions.

So what is a security clearance? A security clearance is a determination by the United States Government that a person or company is eligible for access to classified information.  There are two types of clearances: Personnel Security Clearances (PCLs) and Facility Security Clearances (FCLs).

FUN FACT: About 5.1 million people — or more than 1.5 percent of the population — held security clearances in 2014.

Investigating candidates for security clearances is pricey. A  background check for a Secret-level clearance costs between $210-$272 for each of the 3.6 million people who have them. A Top Secret clearance costs the government nearly 20 times more, at an average of $3,959 per background check.  There’s no doubt it’s big business and it’s gotten bigger as a direct result of America’s two most recent wars.

FUN FACT: The 911 terrorist attacks fueled the fear that our government did not have the resources in place to connect the dots between terrorist cells and those who financed or supported them. As a result, security clearances sky rocketed.

The basis of the U.S. Personnel Security Program can be traced back to the Civil Service Act of 1883 that required applicants for federal employment to possess the requisite character, reputation, trustworthiness, and fitness for employment.

In 1956, the Department of Defense directive established a loyalty standard for the military as required for civilians. As a result, uniform security clearance policies and standards for military, civilian and contractor personnel were established.

The security process and protocols continued to evolve over the years, resulting in significant strides in timeliness and efficiency. This efficiency has been illustrated by a significant reduction in turn around time. For example, there were 98,000 open investigations that were more than 180 days old in 2006. This number was reduced to 1,802 open investigations in August 2008, as reported by The Office of Personnel Management (OPM).Do You Have Access words stamped on a manila folder to illustrat

So what’s the deal with Secret versus Top Secret clearances?  First of all, there are three security levels not two. These are: Confidential, Secret and Top Secret. In addition, the Top Secret Clearance includes Sensitive Compartmentalized Information (SCI) and Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI). Each level of security allows the individual access to increasingly sensitive information.

Secret and Top Secret classifications almost always have some amount of military involvement in the clearance process. These types of licenses are typically found in agencies like the CIA or NSA. One of the differences between Secret and Top Secret is how expansive the background check is or how far and deep the investigation goes into your dependents, friends and relatives.  Here’s how it all breaks down:

CONFIDENTIAL This refers to material, which, if improperly disclosed, could be reasonably expected to cause some measurable damage to the national security. The vast majority of military personnel are given this very basic level of clearance. This level needs to be reinvestigated every fifteen years.

SECRET The unauthorized disclosure of secret information could be expected to cause serious damage to the national security. This level is reinvestigated every ten years.

TOP SECRET Individuals with this clearance have access to information or material that could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security if it was released without authorization. This level needs to be reinvestigated every five years.

Us Pentagon Seen From AboveSo what do people with Secret and Top Secret clearances do for a living? The largest group of people who require security clearances is the military population. There are currently over 200,000 military personal transitioning out of the service each year.  These out-processing military members often look for work in commercial defense related fields or DOD suppliers. Former military personnel who already have security clearances are a hot commodity with DOD suppliers. But if a potential employee’s security clearance has lapsed, a DoD cleared facility can expedite the security clearance so they can get to work in a relatively quick time frame. That’s the power of working with a company with a DoD facility clearance.  

FUN FACT: Did you know that holding a security clearance can increase your salary $5,000 to $15,000 per year or more?

The United States continues to be the world’s largest super power. As a result, the need for security clearances will not wane anytime soon. The Department of Defense and the DOD suppliers that support the agency will continue to require, if not demand the best and brightest military personnel and civilian super stars in the business. CPI stands ready as ever to meet the ever growing demand of the DOD suppliers we serve