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The Background Investigation Process

National Security Adjudicative Guidelines

Interim Determination

Reinvestigation

Continuous Evaluation Program

FAQs

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The Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) conducts personnel security background investigations for the Department of State and other federal agencies.

These investigations provide information for DSS to determine an applicant’s or current employee’s national security eligibility.

DSS conducts more than 38,000 personnel security actions each year for the Department of State and other federal agencies.

A job candidate receives a conditional offer of employment and completes and submits the appropriate form – either a Questionnaire for National Security Positions, Questionnaire for Non-Sensitive Positions, or Questionnaire for Public Trust Positions – and other required forms to the appropriate hiring office.
The hiring office reviews and submits the completed questionnaire and other required forms – known as the security package – to DSS.
DSS reviews the security package and formally opens a background investigation.
DSS conducts record and fingerprint checks against commercial and government databases.
DSS verifies and corroborates key information and events from the candidate’s past and recent history.  This may include interviews of people who know the candidate well.  The investigator may conduct a face-to-face interview the candidate as part of the process.
After the investigation is complete, DSS adjudicates and determines the candidate’s national security eligibility according to Security Executive Agent Directive (SEAD) 4: National Security Adjudicative Guidelines.
In some cases, background investigations may be forwarded to a Department of State Human Resources suitability panel.
After determining the candidate’s national security eligibility, DSS contacts the appropriate hiring authority.

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What are the National Security Adjudicative Guidelines?

The guidelines are defined in the Security Executive Agent Directive (SEAD) 4: National Security Adjudicative Guidelines and are the single common criteria used to evaluate all individuals who require national security eligibility.

All Executive Branch agencies use these guidelines when rendering a national security eligibility determination.

What factors are considered?

National security eligibility determinations take into account a person’s:

  • Stability
  • Trustworthiness
  • Reliability
  • Discretion
  • Character
  • Honesty
  • Judgment
  • Unquestionable loyalty to the U.S.

What factors may not be considered?

In making a national security eligibility determination, the federal government does not discriminate on the basis of:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • National origin
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation

Negative conclusions cannot be made solely on the basis of mental health counseling.

When will national security eligibility be granted?

DSS considers all available, reliable information about a person – past and present, favorable and unfavorable – when reaching a national security eligibility determination.  DSS shall grant national security eligibility only when the information demonstrates that such eligibility is clearly consistent with the interests of the United States.  Any doubt shall be resolved in favor of U.S. national security.

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What is an interim determination?

A favorable interim determination allows the applicant to start working before the full background investigation is complete and before DSS grants the final national security eligibility determination.

When is an interim determination granted?

In exceptional circumstances, the hiring office may request an interim determination.  DSS may be able to grant an interim determination after reviewing a complete security package and after certain investigative checks come back with favorable results.

What does it mean if the interim determination is denied?

If an applicant’s interim determination is denied, additional investigative work must take place prior to a final determination. The denial of an applicant’s interim determination does not have negative implications for the applicant’s final national security eligibility determination.

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Employees are subject to reinvestigation based on their level of security clearance.

What happens during a reinvestigation?

DSS notifies the employee when it is time for a reinvestigation.  The employee submits an updated security package, and DSS conducts a background investigation.

What is covered in this background investigation?

The investigation will cover key aspects of the applicant’s life since the previous background investigation.  It may be necessary to readdress certain issues as further information or patterns are developed.

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The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) implemented Continuous Evaluation (CE) program in December 2016 to ensure the federal government maintains a strong and trusted workforce.  CE applies to all Executive Branch personnel who require eligibility for access to classified information or eligibility to hold a sensitive position.

What does CE do?

CE maximizes the use of automated records to identify security-relevant information earlier and more frequently than the current reinvestigation cycle.  CE records checks supplement information obtained during initial and periodic reinvestigations, transforming them into ongoing reviews rather than snapshots. Read More

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What is the purpose of a security clearance?

The purpose of a security clearance is to allow an individual access to classified national security information.

Can I apply for a security clearance?

No. Applicants cannot initiate a security clearance application on their own.

Who determines whether I need a security clearance? 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 background investigation must be conducted.  This is done after a conditional offer of employment is given to an applicant.

Do I have to be a U.S. citizen to receive a security clearance from the Department of State?

Yes.  When the Department of State’s mission has compelling reasons, however, immigrant alien and foreign national employees who possess special expertise may, at the discretion of the Department of State, be granted limited access to classified information only for specific programs, projects, contracts, licenses, certificates, or grants.

How many types or levels of security clearance are there?

There are three levels of security clearance: confidential, secret, and top secret.

Who decides the level of clearance?

The Department of State’s Bureau of Human Resources determines whether a 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.

What is a public trust? A non-sensitive position?

Public trust and low-risk/non-sensitive are national security eligibility determinations, NOT security clearances.

 

Public trust determinations are requested for applicants whose positions will require access to information at the high- or moderate-risk levels, based upon duties and responsibilities of the position.  A public trust background investigation will include many aspects of a full security clearance investigation. 

 

Low-risk/non-sensitive determinations are requested for applicants whose positions have low-risk levels, based upon duties and responsibilities of the position.

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 has signed a non-disclosure agreement.

Who should I contact if I have questions about my background investigation?

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

 

If the position is a federal contracting position, contact your company’s facility security officer or human resources office.

 

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 DSS Office of Personnel Security and Suitability Customer Service Center at SecurityClearance@state.gov or call between 8 A.M – 5 P.M. EST at (866) 643-4636 or (571) 345-3186.

 

DSS only releases information about the status of an investigation directly to the subject of a Department of State investigation or the hiring authority.

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Phone (866) 643-4636 or (571) 345-3186  between 8 A.M. – 5P.M. EST
Email SecurityClearance@state.gov
DSS only releases information about the status of an investigation directly to the subject of a Department of State investigation or the hiring authority.

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