A current or prospective employer must apply for U.S. government security clearance on behalf of the employee, as individuals cannot apply on their own. Applicants must provide fingerprints and proof of U.S. citizenship, and must answer a personal questionnaire, explains GovCentral. The U.S. Department of State Office of Personnel Security and Suitability reviews the application, performs background checks, and interviews the applicant, according to the Department of State. State Department investigators may also interview former employers, co-workers, neighbors and classmates.
The Department of State also contacts local law enforcement agencies in any place where the applicant has been an employee, student or resident, notes the State Department. The department reviews the results of its investigations against the 13 adjudicative guidelines for security clearances, as of 2015. Guideline criteria include the applicant's personal conduct, alcohol and drug use, sexual behavior, criminal conduct and psychological status. Most applicants receive security clearance, but complications or negative findings can delay the State Department’s decisions.
There are three levels of security clearance: confidential, secret and top secret. Confidential is the lowest and most common level of clearance, and most military personal have this clearance, explains GovCentral. Individuals with this clearance must submit to reinvestigation every 15 years. The State Department reinvestigates the next level, secret clearance, every 10 years and the highest level, top-secret clearance, every five years.