Security clearances are a common requirement for government contracting positions. Most investigations for the major government agencies are conducted by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), but some agencies prefer to conduct their own background checks. For those investigations the OPM does conduct, there has been an improvement in the process over the last several years since the OPM implemented a security clearance reciprocity initiative as a cost-saving measure to avoid duplicate work.
What is security clearance reciprocity?
Security clearance reciprocity is when a government agency is willing to accept another agency’s background investigation in place of its own investigation for government contractors. For example, some intelligence agencies or the Department of Homeland Security may prefer their own investigations due to the highly sensitive nature of their work and the fact that there may be specifics not covered by an investigation performed by a different agency. This system of reciprocity was instituted to allow the transfer of a clearance when an individual moves to a different agency. Only current clearances are eligible, including those that have been inactive for less than two years as they can be renewed.
For many agencies, security clearance reciprocity can help eliminate unnecessary or duplicate background investigations if one already meets the scope of requirements. In the past, there was difficulty establishing reciprocity due to problems with getting different agency databases to communicate, but this led to costly duplicate work. Improved communication between agencies and those conducting background investigations has made a huge difference in reducing costs as well as wait times for new clearances.
Exceptions to Reciprocity
While security clearance reciprocity frequently applies, there are situations where further investigation will be necessary. These include:
- Situations where a polygraph is required
- Clearances granted on an interim basis
- Clearances granted under exceptions (refer to Executive Order 12968)
- Special Compartmentalized Information (SCI) access is required
- The application is for a higher security clearance than your current level
- The last investigation was more than 7 years ago for a top secret clearance or more than 10 years ago for a secret clearance
- There is information on adverse actions or behaviors from after the close of the last investigation
If your clearance falls under any of the listed reasons, reciprocity may not be an option and the investigation may take longer.
Where can you find reciprocity requirements?
There is no single database to determine reciprocity eligibility, but these resources can help you know what to expect:
- Department of Defense Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS)
- Intelligence Community (IC) Scattered Castles Database
- Interagency Clearance Verification Request Form
- U.S. Department of State Security Clearance FAQs
- U.S. Office of Personnel Management Suitability & Credentialing FAQs
Security clearance reciprocity is designed to help save time and money during the process of an interagency transfer, but there may be additional hurdles to overcome if you have a special situation such as transferring to an agency with higher clearance. If you are considering a career with a new agency or looking to get into government contracting, it is important to be prepared for this process in order to make it a smooth one.
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