In general, to obtain a security clearance from the U.S. government, you need to be a loyal U.S. citizen who has lived a relatively clean life. At any given time in the U.S., there are roughly 3 million people with security clearance. The greatest number of these people can be found in the U.S. military.
Do You Need Security Clearance?
The first requirement for obtaining a security clearance is the need for one. If your position requires that you be allowed access to restricted information or you work in a restricted facility or with a restricted unit, you will need to obtain a security clearance. Besides many government positions needing clearances, medical, telecommunications, education and financial fields may also have positions requiring security clearance.
The security check will begin with you filling out a 17-page questionnaire. Most of the questions seek information that can be investigated, such as past residences and employment. It will also ask for contact information for people who know you. Fill out the form thoroughly and honestly. Providing false information on a U.S. security form is punishable with a fine, jail time and/or a dishonorable discharge if you are in the military.
The Security Check
A security check involves investigation of your life, including federal records, criminal checks and credit checks. Higher level checks will also involve field interviews not only with you, but with people who know you. Investigators will be looking into your character, criminal history, emotional stability, trustworthiness, loyalty and reliability to see if you should be allowed to access confidential information, most notably national security information. So you don’t want to have committed serious crimes, be deep in debt or associate with groups that act against the government.
Holding the Clearance
Once you are granted your security clearance, you will be briefed on what you need to do to maintain it. You will also have to sign and abide by a nondisclosure agreement in which you formally agree not to disclose the confidential nature of the information you will have access to.
Keeping Your Clearance
Once you have a security clearance, it will be periodically reviewed. Any information that could affect your clearance could also trigger a review. Things like personal conduct, sexual behavior, alcohol problems and criminal conduct can lead to a review of the clearance and possible revocation.