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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 (PCL) and Facility Security Clearance (FCL). Government agencies that issue clearances often refer to clearances as “eligibility for access.”

What are the security clearance levels?

Security clearances can be issued by many United States government agencies, including the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy (DoE), the Department of Justice, and the Central Intelligence Agency. DoE clearances include the “L,” and “Q” levels. DoD issues more than 80% of all clearances. There are three levels of DoD security clearances:

  • Confidential
  • Secret
  • Top Secret.

What is DISCO?

The Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO) is part of the Defense Security Service (DSS), an agency of the Department of Defense (DoD). DISCO processes and adjudicates Personnel Clearances (PCL) and Facility Clearances (FCL) for defense contractor personnel and defense contractor facilities. It is one of eight Central Adjudication Facilities (CAF) within DoD.

What type of information is requested on a security clearance application?

The application form requires personal identifying data, as well as information regarding residence, education and employment history; family and associates; and foreign connections/travel. Additionally, it asks for information about arrests, illegal drug involvement, financial delinquencies, mental health counseling, alcohol counseling, military service, prior clearances, civil court actions, and subversive activities. The number of years of information required on the form depends on the level of clearance

What do the terms “active,” “current” and “expired” mean?

People either have a clearance or they don’t have a clearance. The Personnel Security Investigation (PSI) on which the clearance is based can be either “current” or “expired.” PSIs are current if they are not more than five years old for a Top Secret clearance, 10 years old for a Secret clearance, or 15 years old for a Confidential clearance. Generally, if the PSI is out-of-date (expired) or there has been a break-in-service of two years or more, a person must be nominated for a new clearance and must complete a new application in the same manner as a person who never had a clearance.

Can a clearance be reinstated after it has been terminated?

Yes. If a person previously had a clearance and the investigation is still current, the clearance can be reinstated by the agency that originally granted the clearance or it can be accepted and granted by a different agency, provided there hasn’t been a break-in-service of two years or more. This usually only entails the submission of a new application and a favorable review of the application by the clearance granting authority.

What is an interim security clearance?

An interim clearance (also known as “interim eligibility”) is based on the completion of minimum investigative requirements and granted on a temporary basis, pending the completion of the full investigative requirements for the final clearance. Interim Secret clearances can be issued rather quickly once the clearance granting authority receives a properly completed application. Interim Top Secret clearances take two or three months longer. Interim clearances can be denied, if unfavorable information is listed on the application form or at any time unfavorable information is developed during the investigation. All applicants are considered for interim clearances by the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office.

With some exceptions an interim clearance permits a person to have access to classified material at all levels of classification up to the level of the clearance requested. Interim Secret clearances are not sufficient for access to special categories of classified information, such as COMSEC, NATO,

Who issues clearances?

The Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO) in Columbus, OH issues DoD contractor Personnel Clearances (PCL). PCLs are based on completed personnel security investigations (PSI) that do not have any serious security or suitability issues. When DISCO is unable to issue a PCL, the case is forwarded to the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) for further consideration.

How will I be informed when I am granted a clearance?

Normally you will be contacted by a representative of your Facility Security Officer and required to sign a “Classified Information Non-disclosure Agreement” and a form acknowledging that you have received a security briefing, prior to be granted access to classified information.

What is e-QIP (Electronic Questionnaire for Investigations Processing)?

e-QIP is an Office of Personnel Management (OPM) web-based computer program in which an applicant enters the same information as required on the Standard Form 86—Questionnaire for National Security Positions. e-QIP became available in July 2005 and has been slowly replacing the EPSQ. OPM anticipates that 100% of clearance applications from all major requestors will be submitted using e-QIP by the end of 2007.

What is JPAS (Joint Personnel Adjudication System)?

JPAS is the official personnel security clearance database management system for DoD and other government users. All National Industrial Security Program (NISP) cleared contractors use this system for all types of personnel clearance actions, including initiating requests for clearance investigations. For more information, visit the JPAS website at

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