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What Is a Homeland Security Clearance Certificate?

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The U.S. Department of Homeland Security was established in 2002 in response to the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. To work for the department, you'll need to obtain a security clearance.

What Is a Security Clearance?

Security clearances can be issued to individuals who work directly for the federal government or to private contractors working for the government. A security clearance is a determination of eligibility to access classified materials. The clearance does not automatically grant access to those materials. It simply means that someone has passed the rigorous background checks and may be granted access to materials on a need-to-know basis.

Security Clearance Levels

There are three levels of security clearance: confidential, secret and top secret. Information is classified according to levels of sensitivity, and access likewise is restricted to an individual's level of clearance.

There are also two major categories of information that require additional handling and access restrictions because they are deemed to be particularly vulnerable. Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) includes intelligence sources, methods and processes. Special Access Programs (SAPs) are highly sensitive projects and programs.

How to Get a Security Clearance

You cannot initiate an application for a security clearance on your own. If you apply for a federal job (or private firm contracted by the federal government), the sponsoring agency gets the process started and assumes all the costs of the investigation. The applicant pays nothing.

Depending on the agency and the level of clearance required, it typically takes from three to 12 months to obtain a clearance. To maintain a clearance, individuals may be subject to behavior monitoring or new background checks.

Only U.S. citizens are eligible to obtain background checks. There are a few exceptions, which are granted on a case-by-case basis.

What's the Clearance Process?

There are four main components in the security clearance process:

  • Pre-Investigation: After an agency makes the determination that a security clearance will be necessary for job performance, a candidate is asked to submit application materials. The information an individual is required to provide depends on the security clearance level sought.
  • Investigation: An individual's information is run through national databases, including a fingerprint database. The applicant participates in a personal interview.
  • Adjudication: A determination is made by the sponsoring agency based on the information found in the background check. Individuals are entitled to appeal a decision to deny the clearance, although such appeals are rarely subject to judicial review.
  • Reinvestigation: All clearance holders, regardless of level, are investigated again after a period of five years.

Who Conducts Background Checks?

As of 2016, the responsibility for background checks and related investigations was assigned to a newly established agency called the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB). The NBIB conducts some of the work itself and also uses private contractors. Prior to 2016, investigations were handled by the Office of Personnel Management, Federal Investigative Services.

Department of Homeland Security

Established in 2002, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was the result of a consolidation of different departments and agencies within the federal government, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Secret Service.

Department of Homeland Security Jobs

A wide variety of career opportunities are available within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). They are categorized as follows:

  • Immigration and Travel: Protecting the nation's transportation systems; overseeing lawful immigration to the U.S.
  • Law Enforcement: Protection of the president, vice president, their families, heads of state and other designated individuals; securing the nation's borders; interagency law enforcement training; and enforcing economic, transportation and infrastructure security.
  • Mission Support: Fields include budget, civil rights, facilities, fraud detection, human resources, intelligence, medical, planning and coordination, science and technology, training and more.

Go to the DHS's jobs website to find available positions. Read the job announcement to determine whether you qualify. Homeland Security application instructions will be contained in the job announcement. Be sure to follow them exactly. Submit all required documents and note the application deadline.

If it's determined you're among the best-qualified candidates, you will be invited to interview with a supervisor or hiring authority. The interview may be in person or by phone. Hiring procedures are governed by federal civil service laws to ensure that every applicant receives fair and equal treatment.


Denise Dayton is a a freelance writer who specializes in business, education and technology. She has written for, Library Journal, The Searcher, Bureau of Education and Research, and corporate clients.