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Applicants for federal employment and contractors engaged in work for an agency must undergo at least one background investigation to assure that they are suitable for their work or engagement. For more high risk or sensitive positions, these individuals may have to undergo security clearances governed by more rigorous procedures.

General procedures

After an agency decides upon the hiring of an applicant, it offers a tentative job offer. Information is then sent to an investigation agency. Since Oct. 2019, the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency conducted these security clearance investigations.

The hiring agency may issue an interim clearance or interim appointment, based upon the position’s sensitivity until the investigation is completed. DCSA investigations take a few weeks to several months, depending on the position.

Investigations for a non-critical sensitive position, also known as a confidential/secret clearance, have a completion goal of 40 days. The target for a critical sensitive or special sensitive position, a top-secret clearance, is 80 days.

The applicant’s history also plays a role. Moving, job changes and relevant behavior or issues can require more time because DCSA may interview additional sources or engage in more fieldwork.

The hiring agency receives the DCSA’s report after the investigation is concluded. Some agencies make decisions within days, while others have taken weeks or months.


DCSA has a backlog of approximately 230,000 cases, according to early 2020 reports. This backlog, however, is down from previous years.

Security clearance

Every federal employee must undergo a background investigation. Each employee does not need a security clearance, however.

A security clearance grants someone access to classified information. Approval is based on information contained in a background investigation and the need for that person to have access.

Applicants with an existing security clearance from another government job, contracting engagement or military service may have their investigation expedited. But expediting an investigation often depends on the level of their clearance and when it was performed.

An existing high level-security clearance is an advantage in the market for government-adjacent careers. Contractors can place a pre-clear employee on the job faster.

An attorney can help you undergo these investigations. Lawyers may be able to deal with problems that arise with seeking and keeping clearances.