An official website of the United States Government Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) implemented the Continuous Evaluation (CE) in December 2016 to modernize personnel security processing to make sure the federal government keeps a strong and trusted workforce.

Read More


  1. What is the purpose of a security clearance?
    The purpose of a security clearance is to determine if an individual is able and willing to safeguard classified national security information, based on his or her loyalty, character, trustworthiness, and reliability.
  2. Can I apply for a security clearance?
    No, applicants cannot initiate a security clearance application on their own.
  3. Who determines whether I need a security clearance, and when does this happen?
    Hiring officials determine whether a Department of State position will require a security clearance based upon the duties and responsibilities of the position. If the position requires access to classified information, a personnel security background investigation must be conducted. This is only done after a conditional offer of employment is given.
  1. Do you have to be a U.S. citizen to receive a security clearance from the Department of State?
    Yes, however, exceptions may be considered in specific situations if there are compelling reasons for limited access to be granted to an immigrant alien or foreign national employee who possesses a special expertise that is needed for specific programs, projects, contracts, licenses, certificates, or grants.
  1. How many types or levels of security clearance are there?
    There are three levels of security clearance: Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret.
  2. How is it decided what level of clearance a person receives?
    The Bureau of Human Resources determines whether a Department of State position will require a security clearance, as well as the level required, based upon the duties and responsibilities of the position and using OPM’s Position Designation Tool .
  1. What is a public trust? A non-sensitive position?
    A public trust and low-risk/non-sensitive determination are NOT security clearances.
    A public trust security investigation will include many of the aspects of a full security clearance investigation.
    HR will request a public trust for an applicant whose position will require access to information at the high or moderate risk levels, as determined by the position’s potential for adverse impact to the efficiency or integrity of the service.Such positions may involve policy making, major program responsibility, public safety and health, law enforcement duties, fiduciary responsibilities, or other duties demanding a significant degree of public trust, and positions involving access to or operation or control of financial records.HR will request a low-risk/non-sensitive determination for an applicant whose position has been assessed to have a low risk level, as determined by the position’s potential for adverse impact to the efficiency or integrity of the service.
  1. What work does a security clearance allow a person to do?
    A security clearance allows an individual filling a specific position to have access to classified national security information up to and including the level of clearance that they hold as long as the individual has a “need to know” the information and signed a non-disclosure agreement.
  1. Will my clearance be transferable to other federal agencies?
    Reciprocity is the acknowledgement and acceptance of an existing background investigation conducted by an authorized investigative agency; the acceptance of a national security eligibility adjudication determined by an authorized adjudicative agency; and the acceptance of an active national security eligibility determination granted by an executive branch agency.Federal agencies will normally accept another agency’s investigation as the basis for granting a security clearance, provided the applicant’s last security clearance investigation was completed within the past five years for a Top Secret clearance and 10 years for a Secret clearance, and there has not been a break in service of more than two years. Any significant changes in an applicant’s situation since his or her last investigation may be considered.Some federal agencies might have additional investigative or adjudicative requirements that must be met prior to their accepting a clearance granted by another agency.
  1. Can I transfer my security clearance for private sector employment?
    Security clearances only apply to positions that fall under the purview of the federal government. Security clearances are only granted to persons “employed by, detailed or assigned to, an [executive] agency, including members of the Armed Forces; an expert or consultant to an agency; an industrial or commercial contractor, licensee, certificate holder, or grantee of an agency, including all subcontractors; a personal services contractor; or any other category of person who acts for or on behalf of an agency as determined by the appropriate agency head.”
  1. How long is my security clearance valid after I leave the federal government?
    The security clearance must be administratively removed when the employee no longer has need for access. The Department of State will revalidate a security clearance if the applicant has not been out of federal service for more than two (2) years, and if the applicant’s clearance is based on an appropriate and current personnel security clearance investigation.
  1. Does having a security clearance guarantee employment with the Department of State?
    The hiring process addresses whether someone will be initially selected for a particular position within the Department. The security clearance process does not begin until after a conditional offer of employment is given.
  2. Are members of my family or people living with me subject to a security check?
    There are circumstances in which limited records checks or an investigation may be conducted on a spouse or cohabitant. National agency checks are conducted on spouses and/or cohabitants of applicants being processed for a Top Secret level clearance, with the spouse or cohabitant’s authorization.  Additional investigations may be conducted when the spouse or cohabitant is a foreign national. 
  3. How often is a security clearance renewed?
    An individual is normally subject to re-investigation approximately every five years for a Secret or Top Secret level clearance.
  4. For what reasons would I be denied a security clearance?
    Various reasons exist for denial of a security clearance. Honesty, candor, and thoroughness are very important factors in the process of obtaining a security clearance.Every case is individually assessed, using the National Security Adjudicative Guidelines, to determine whether the granting or continuing of eligibility for a security clearance is clearly consistent with the interests of national security.There are thirteen guidelines under this directive, each with specific concerns and mitigating factors, which are all publically available online.  See CFR 32 part 147, Subpart A, for more information.
  5. How long does it take to process a typical security clearance?
    Each case varies based on the specific circumstances of the individual subject and the level of security clearance requested.
  6. What happens if I’m denied a security clearance? Is there an appeal process?
    If you are denied a security clearance, or your continued eligibility for access to classified information is revoked, you will be notified of the reason(s) and be provided with the procedures for filing an appeal. You will be given the opportunity to address derogatory information that is provided as the basis for denial or revocation. 
  7. What is e-QIP?
    The Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (e-QIP) system is a web-based automated system, owned by the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) and mandated for federal government use, that facilitates the processing of standard investigative forms used when conducting background investigations for Federal security, suitability, fitness, and credentialing purposes.  e-QIP allows the user to electronically enter, update, and transmit their personal investigative data over a secure internet connection to a requesting agency.
  8. What are some typical delays that occur in the security clearance process?
    Some of the most common areas of delay include the submission of incomplete forms and information, poorly collected fingerprints, and investigations that involve coverage of extensive overseas activities.Applicants can help expedite the process by ensuring that they have completed all forms thoroughly and accurately; familiarizing themselves with the appearance of a  so the prints will not be rejected; and when possible, providing stateside references who can verify foreign activities.A lot of detailed information is required to conduct a background investigation. Information such as:
  • Complete names;
  • Current and previous addresses and telephone numbers; and
  • Dates of birth for relatives will be required.Begin collecting that information before the e-QIP is initiated.  Collect additional references when possible in case we are unable to reach those provided initially.
  1. Can a security clearance be reinstated after it has been terminated?

    Yes.  If an individual held an active security clearance and the investigation is not out of date, the clearance can be revalidated by the agency that originally granted the clearance, or it can be accepted and reciprocally granted by a different agency, with the following provisions:

  • There has not been a break in service of two years or more;
  • The requested clearance level is the same or lower than what the subject held previously; and
  • There have not been significant changes in an individual’s situation since his or her last investigation.Some federal agencies might have additional investigative or adjudicative requirements that must be met prior to their accepting a clearance granted by another agency.


For assistance with background investigations being conducted by a federal agency other than the Department of State, please contact that agency directly.

If the position is a federal contracting position, contact your company’s Facility Security Officer or Human Resources department.

For assistance with completing your security clearance package for a Department of State investigation or to inquire about the status of your security clearance with the Department of State, you may email the PSS Customer Service Center at or call between the hours of 8:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M. EST by dialing toll free 1-866-643-4636 (1-866-643-INFO) or 571-345-3186.

Please note that we are only able to release information about the status of an investigation directly to the subject of a Department of State investigation or the hiring authority.


U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future