What is Security Clearance Reciprocity?

What is Security Clearance Reciprocity?


Security clearances are a tough hurdle to overcome for professionals working in the government sector, as well as contractors in need of talent with the proper credentialing. With an alphabet soup of government agencies to choose from, just how can you know if a security clearance will transfer from one agency to another? Since clearances are attached to positions and not the actual individual, the best answer is that it really depends on the situation at hand. However, in most situations a government agency or contractor is able to reinstate the clearance with the the implementation of the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) cost-saving initiative of reciprocity.

Security Clearance Reciprocity

In order to obtain a security clearance, you have to undergo a vigorous screening process that becomes increasingly intrusive the higher the clearance level needs. For the major government agencies, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management conducts the background investigations needed to obtain a clearance. However, there are several agencies that conduct their own investigations. A good example being all the intelligence agencies, as well as the Department of Homeland Security.
Reciprocity is in place to help facilitate the transfer of clearance when moving across agencies. This policy was implemented to reduce costs for previously cleared individuals that have a “current” clearance. Current implies it has been less than two years since inactivity. The 13 adjudicative guidelines are exactly the same across agencies, so the more closely related the agency the more likely the reciprocity will be granted. The actual OPM Statement reads that a hiring agency, in it’s determination of eligibility for access to classified information by a person currently cleared elsewhere cannot.

  • Request the individual to complete a new security questionnaire
  • Review existing backgrounds for individuals
  • Review existing security questionnaires for the individual
  • Initiate any new investigative checks

Where Reciprocity Fails

Of course with the highly sensitive nature of some programs and agencies, there are exceptions to the rule. If one of the following applies, there is a strong likelihood additional investigations and processing will be required for a cross-over.

  1. Previous clearance was granted on an interim basis
  2. Clearances granted under exceptions to standards, see Executive Order 12968
  3. The last investigation was more than seven years ago for Top Secret clearances and 10 years for Secret clearances
  4. Polygraph requirements are in place
  5. If Special Compartmentalized Information (SCI) access is needed
  6. You are applying for a position that requires a higher security clearance level
  7. Information on adverse actions or behaviors is revealed after the close of the last investigation

Where to Search Reciprocity Requirements

While there is no single database for agencies or contractors to search to determine if reciprocity is required, there are several resources that can be used to help.

The purpose of reciprocity is to help reduce the time and costs of inter-agency transfers, meaning it is becoming easier to determine and execute a successful clearance cross-over. However, as you can see the process is not perfect. If you are considering a career with a new agency as an employee or contractor, it’s best to be prepared with the latest information available. By reviewing these standards, you can get a good idea of what you will be facing during your transition. If you are still unsure, you can contact the agency in question as a direct hire employee. If you are interested in contract opportunities with the federal government, contact one of our Resource Managers at TPGS.  We are available to help you through the process of finding a new position and your clearance cross-over.