Basic Cleared Recruitment Terms You Need to Know

Sep 11, 2023

If you’ve ever felt lost in the maze of security clearances, classified projects, and specialized terminology, you’re not alone. When it comes to cleared recruitment, several terms are commonly used. Both job seekers and employers need to understand these terms to navigate the cleared job market effectively. In this blog, we explore some of the key terms related to cleared recruitment.

1. Clearance and its Types

Clearance is permission that must be obtained to determine an individual’s reliability and trustworthiness before permitting them to access classified National Security Information. An Individual obtaining a security clearance must undergo a rigorous background check and examination to ensure they are qualified to handle classified information. There are three types of Sensitive clearances: Confidential, Secret, and Top-Secret.

  • Confidential Clearance: Access to information that is considered confidential but not classified is granted at the confidential clearance level. Individuals with this level of clearance are frequently granted access to sensitive but not highly classified information. The holder of this clearance may only access very basic or a minimal level of confidential information or access to secure federal sites. The Confidential clearance is to be reinvestigated every 15 years.
  • Secret Clearance: A Secret clearance provides access to classified information that could harm national security if disclosed without proper authorization. Secret clearance should be reinvestigated every 10 years.
  • Top-Secret Clearance: Top-Secret clearance provides access to some of the nation’s most sensitive intelligence and operations information. Top Secret clearance is granted on a need-to-know basis and only to those individuals with a Secret clearance. Top Secret clearance provides its holder access to very sensitive and highly classified sites and information that, if revealed, could threaten national security. The Top-secret clearance must be reinvestigated every 5 years.

Department of Energy (DoE) primarily issues “ DoE L clearance,” and “DoE Q Clearance” Access Authorizations, which are roughly equivalent to Secret and Top Secret clearances, respectively.

2. Interim Clearance

An interim clearance (also known as “interim eligibility”) is based on the completion of a minimum background investigation and granted to an individual on a temporary basis, while the full investigation for the final clearance is being completed. The interim security clearance permits an individual to perform job tasks while they receive a final determination on their security clearance.

3. Special Access Programs

The Special Access Program is a classified program that uses security measures to prevent the disclosure of highly sensitive information. These programs involve Special eligibility checks, polygraph testing, and SCI (Sensitive Compartmented Information). This information is processed, stored, used, and discussed in the Special Access Program Facility, which is a room or series of rooms designed and built to prevent outside access to sensitive information. Special Access Program covers SCI (Sensitive Compartmented Information) and Polygraphs.

  • SCI (Sensitive Compartmented Information): SCI or Sensitive Compartmented Information is a type of security clearance that provides access to all the intelligence information and materials that require special access, known as Artifacts. A Top Secret clearance does not qualify a person for SCI access; instead, a person must undergo a rigorous SSBI (Single Scope Background Investigation) to become eligible for SCI Access. SCI information is stored in SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility)/Special Access Program Facility that is specially constructed to safeguard SCI and highly sensitive information.
  • Polygraphs: Polygraphs are a type of Special Access that determines an individual’s eligibility for special assignments or access to critically sensitive information. Government-approved personnel security polygraph programs oversee the administration of polygraph exams, carried out exclusively by trained and certified government examiners. There are three types of polygraphs: Counterintelligence Polygraph (CI Poly), Lifestyle Polygraph (LS Poly), and Full Scope Polygraph (FS Poly).
    • Counterintelligence Polygraph: A Counterintelligence Polygraph (CI polygraph) is a type of polygraph test used to evaluate an individual’s trustworthiness and loyalty to the United States, especially for security clearance purposes. The test covers topics such as Sabotage against the United States, Unauthorized Foreign contacts, or Unauthorized disclosure of classified materials.
    • Lifestyle Polygraph: A Lifestyle Polygraph is a type of test used to evaluate an individual’s suitability for accessing highly sensitive information that can jeopardize national security. It comprehensively examines personal and professional aspects, such as involvement in serious crime, involvement with drugs in the past 7 years, and deliberate falsification of security forms.
    • Full Scope Polygraph: A Full Scope Polygraph exam combines the Counterintelligence and Lifestyle polygraph exams.

The results from the polygraph test impact special access decisions, though concerns exist about their accuracy due to factors like stress.

4. SF-86 Form

SF-86 form is used to conduct Security Investigations for individuals who require access to classified information.
SF-86 form plays an important role in helping the Federal Government determine if an individual poses a security risk to the United States. The SF-86 responses assist in assessing an Individual’s personality, work background, and personal life.

5. Background Investigations

The Background Investigation process starts once the applicant or individual has been given a contingent offer of employment, the Standard Form 86 or SF-86 form, and other required forms. An individual must fill out the required security forms thoroughly and honestly. The Background investigation includes a detailed check of an individual’s past work records, school history, criminal records, credit history, licensing records, motor vehicle history, and other critical components of their prior and current background. A Background Investigation is mandatory for any civilian employee offered a job within the Federal Government.

6. Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI)

SSBI is an investigation required for Top Secret clearance and SCI access. SSBI investigation includes National Agency checks, credit checks, law enforcement checks, Enhanced Subject Interview, Former spouse interviews, Character and employment references, reviews of residences, employment, and academic records, which usually cover the last 10 years.

7. Adjudication

Adjudication is the last stage in the clearance process. After a candidate passes the background investigation, an evaluation is made to determine whether the individual can access classified information. The Facility Security Officer adjudicates an individual’s clearance with their profile in DISS (Defense Information System for Security), after evaluating the individual’s loyalty, trustworthiness, and reliability by using the appropriate rules, regulations, and results from the background investigation.

8. Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA)

DCSA or Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency is the largest DoD (Department of Defense) security agency in the US responsible for personnel supervision, critical technology protection, counterintelligence, training, education, and certification. DCSA investigations gather information using a variety of methods to provide a comprehensive view of the applicant and to provide the information required by the adjudicator to determine whether an individual is eligible to access classified information, is eligible for civilian work, or permission to be granted or denied for select positions and credentials to access various DOD systems and facilities.

9. Defense Information System for Security (DISS)

The DISS system is an acronym that stands for Defense Information System for Security. DISS is the online secure database system used for managing personnel security within the DoD, ensuring that individuals have the appropriate clearances and credentials for their roles. It is administered by the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA). DISS replaced JPAS (Joint Personnel Adjudication System) and other federal databases for security clearances in 2018.

10. Facility Security Officer (FSO)

Once a company gets a Facility Security Clearance, it needs to designate a Facility Security Officer (FSO). The FSO will be responsible for supervising and directing the security measures in the organization. The duties of a Facility Security Officer (FSO) include Applying, Adjudicating, Verifying, and Flagging a clearance.

11. Clearance Process

Download: Graphical representation of the clearance process


The iQuasar recruitment outsourcing team provides tailored recruiting solutions to candidates looking for their next opportunity and organizations looking for talent. We help businesses have a competitive edge in the cleared market by creating opportunities and increasing their value. Partnering with us allows businesses to work directly with our specialist recruitment team, which has access to some of the top-notch recruitment assets, such as numerous job boards, and job postings, ATS with a database of over 1.3 million resumes, and one of the successful cleared recruiting track records in the industry.

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