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Security clearance vs. suitability - what is the difference?

For jobs within the U.S. government or as contractors in the Virginia area, it is often required that the applicant take part in a background check and have a security clearance before starting work. While this can seem to be an inconvenience, the nation's safety and security is a key factor and should not be ignored. A question that is often asked, however, is what the difference is between a security clearance and suitability investigation. As with any government job, any issue minor or major can derail it. This is especially true with security clearances and factors connected to it.

Since people who are hired as direct employees of the U.S. government and intelligence agencies will have sensitive information available to them and contractors will be in locations that give them access to information that can be detrimental to security, a security clearance is needed. A security clearance, as has been discussed previously in posts here, is when there is an inquiry into the person's past to decide if they have the loyalty, the trustworthiness, the character and is reliable to have access to items of national security.

Investigations and determinations related to security clearance are based on the criteria laid out by the Diplomatic Security Service. Just because a person passes this aspect does not mean they are suitable. Suitability is when there is an inquiry into the person's character and conduct to see if he or she should be hired or retained. If a person is deemed not to have the requisite credentials based on their suitability, this will negatively impact their prospects to get and keep the job.

For some jobs, security clearance is a formality and clearance issues can be cleared up relatively easily so the person can be hired as a direct employee or a contractor. In others, there is no issue on the security clearance front, but it is determined - for whatever reason - that the applicant is unsuitable. When there are concerns that the process was unfair at any point, having the right information about security clearances is crucial.

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