Security Clearances

Many people think that they can go to a company or agency and apply for their own security clearance. This is far from the truth. Only the federal government can grant someone a security clearance, and to get one the applicant must work for a government agency or contractor and conduct business that justifies granting him or her access to highly sensitive information.

Why companies want to hire people with clearances

If you already have a valid security clearance, that's a valuable commodity for government contractors whose employees require a security clearance. Processing security clearances cost money, and requires time (sometimes several months). The average cost to process a SECRET clearance can run from several hundred dollars to $3,000, depending upon individual factors. The average cost to process a TOP SECRET clearance is between $3,000 and about $15,000, depending upon individual factors.

The government pays the cost of clearances for military personnel and civilian government employees. Typically, the requesting agency pays most of the costs of obtaining clearances for their employees. That's why contractors quite often advertise to try and find employees who already hold a valid clearance. It saves them several thousands of dollars. Additionally, it saves them time, as they don't have to wait for months for the new employee to obtain a clearance, and begin to do the job they were hired for.

You cannot simply request a clearance for yourself and offer to pay for it. To obtain a clearance you have to have a job which requires one (either by being in the military, or a government civilian job, or a contractor job).

However, there is no reason why you should not apply for these jobs. If it comes down to a choice between you and a candidate who already has a clearance, the contractor will probably choose the other candidate (saving thousands of dollars in the process). However, if the contractor can't find anyone else who already holds a clearance, they may decide to hire you anyway, and pay for your clearance process.

What investigative information may be available to me?

If Defense Security Service (DSS) has conducted an investigation on you, there is generally some type of information available to you. However, if you have been awarded a CONFIDENTIAL or SECRET clearance there is the possibility that the available information may be very limited.

The investigation requirement for a clearance at the CONFIDENTIAL or SECRET level is rather fundamental. This type of investigation is know as a National Agency Check (NAC) and begins with queries to appropriate U.S. Government agencies. If no questionable or derogatory information is uncovered the investigation is concluded.

However, DSS does so many of this type of investigation in a year that they cannot possibly store them all, even on microfilm. Therefore, in those instances where the results are entirely favorable, DSS does not keep a physical copy of the investigation. The only information that is available is a single line in the Defense Clearance and Investigations Index (DCII) computer system reflecting the date the NAC was completed, and the identity of those US Government agencies that were checked regarding you.

If, however, information of a questionable or derogatory nature is admitted or uncovered, then the investigation will be retained in a physical format, most likely on computer.

If you hold a TOP SECRET clearance the investigative requirements are much more complex. Although a NAC is still part of the investigation, DSS will from the beginning, send its Special Agents out to conduct a field investigation called a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI). These types of investigations are always retained in a physical format.

If you have maintained a clearance for a period of time, DSS may also have on file "update-type" investigations, called Periodic Reinvestigations (PR). These may either be in computer or physical format as appropriate to your clearance level and investigative results.

Finally, if DSS is requested to investigate questionable or derogatory allegations or information after you have been granted a clearance, but before you are due a PR, they will conduct a Special Investigative Inquiry (SII). This type of investigation is retained in a physical format.

What Other Information is Available About Me From DSS?

In the large majority of cases, people are primarily interested in the information about themselves found in the DSS investigative file. However, certain other types of information may be available, although whether any of this additional information exists is unique to each case.

An example of other types of information may include, but is not limited to:

  • Disclosure Information:

    That is, records of whether your investigative file or information about your file has ever been released to another agency;

  • Industrial Clearance Information:

    If you have a security clearance because you work for a company that has placed you on a DoD contract requiring a clearance, then the record of that clearance is the property of and may be released to you by DSS.

  • General Information:

    In many instances DSS may be able to answer general questions concerning investigations and clearances. If they can't, they may be able to direct you to a person, office or agency that can.

Is there any DSS information that I may not have?

Both the Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act permit DSS to exclude information release. Since each investigation is unique, there are an unlimited number of possibilities as to what may be withheld from an individual investigation, however, most of the information falls into one of these three general areas:

  • Information that pertains to another person and release of which would, in DSS's opinion, constitute a violation of their privacy, will be withheld.
  • Information which is currently and properly classified, will be withheld.
  • Information that may tend to identify a source to whom DSS has granted an express promise of confidentiality, will be withheld.
  • If DSS receives your request for your investigation and DSS has a current case open on you, they will not release any information from that current case so long as it is open. DSS routinely checks for completion of the case and will forward the releasable portions to you as soon as they are able.

If there are prior closed DSS investigations DSS will, at your request, consider them for release to you while awaiting the current case to be completed and closed.

In certain instances, DSS encounters medical information that they do not have the expertise to evaluate for release. In those situations, DSS will withhold the information and request you to provide them with the name and address of a physician to whom you wish the records sent, so they may be fully and correctly explained to you.

What won't I find in DSS records?

DSS conducts investigations for DoD military personnel, DoD Federal civilian personnel, and DoD contractor personnel. They have special arrangements with certain other Federal agencies to do some investigations for them, for example, the US Coast Guard. However, DSS does not perform investigations for the entire government. If you do not fit into one of these categories, you should contact the service, agency or contractor you are or were with, to obtain the identity of the investigating agency.

DSS maintains clearance information (ie, level of security clearance held) for DoD contractors only. If you are seeking information concerning a clearance you currently have or had as a member of the military or as a Federal civilian employee, you must contact the service or agency you served in or worked for to obtain clearance information.

DSS conducts only Personnel Security Investigations; they do not conduct any criminal-type law enforcement investigations.

DSS is not an intelligence-gathering agency, and DSS does not investigate unexplained phenomena.

What if I want a copy of DSS information that pertains to me?

If you wish to request a copy of your DSS investigation, you must send a written request containing the following:

  • Your full current name
  • Any other names you may have used in the past
  • Date of Birth
  • Social Security Number
  • An originally notarized signature*
  • A brief description of the records you are seeking
  • Any other information that you believe may be useful in our search for records pertaining to you
  • Whether you want someone else to receive the records on your behalf (include name and address of the other party)

Send your request to:
Defense Security Service
Privacy Act Branch
601 10th Street, Suite 128
Fort George G. Meade, Maryland 20755-5134

Please note, that due to privacy concerns, facsimile and electronic mail requests for investigative files are not accepted. Only originally signed and properly notarized requests will be accepted via postal mail.

* A word about notarized signatures - DSS wants to protect your privacy by ensuring that no unauthorized person obtains access to your DSS investigative file. Therefore, they ask for a notarized signature to ensure that only the correct person will be getting your records. Note: For military personnel, you may have your signature attested to by a commissioned officer in place of the notary requirement.

What if I Disagree?

If you disagree with information contained in your DSS file or wish to clarify information, The Privacy Act of 1974, permits you to request amendments to your DSS investigative file. If, after reviewing your file, you find information you disagree with, information you believe to be erroneous or if you wish to provide additional information to clarify something, DSS will be able to provide you with instructions on how to make such a request. These actions are not conducted by the Privacy Act Branch of DSS, but by their superior's office at DSS Headquarters.

Instructions for Correction or Amendment

Mail to:
Defense Security Service
Office of Freedom of Information and Privacy
1340 Braddock Place
Alexandria, Virginia 22314-1651

How may I appeal if I am denied information under the Privacy Act?

If the Privacy Act Branch denies you access to any information pertaining to you, you may appeal to their supervisor's office at DSS Headquarters at the above Amendment/Correction address.

What if my investigation was done a long time ago?

DSS became operational on October 1, 1972. Prior to the formation of DSS, the Personnel Security Investigation (PSI) mission was accomplished by the military services. When DSS inherited the PSI responsibilities, prior investigations became their property. However, due to lack of storage space, old files remained in the military services file repositories until requested on an individual basis by DSS. As a result, most of these investigations were destroyed at the end of their routine retention period.

In addition, the large majority of DSS investigative files for field investigations are retained only for 15 years after the closing date of the last investigative effort. Therefore most DSS investigations with a last investigative effort closing date of 15 years or more have been deleted from their files.

See Defense Security Service (DSS), US Army and Department of Defense (DoD) websites.

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