What is DOE “Q” clearance?

May 23, 2024

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Q clearance is significant for individuals pursuing roles in sensitive sectors such as national security, nuclear research, and intelligence operations. However, what exactly does a DOE Q clearance entail, and how can one initiate the process of obtaining it while navigating through the adjudication procedure?

This comprehensive guide aims to clarify the DOE Q clearance by exploring its complexity, discussing its significance, outlining the steps necessary for acquisition, and elaborating on the thorough background checks required to attain this clearance.

What is a “Q” clearance?


The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 grants the Department of Energy (DOE) power and responsibility for all nuclear energy information for the United States Government. The DOE issues “Q” or “L” access authorizations, which allow personnel to access classified material when necessary for their official tasks or where eligibility for access to or control over specific nuclear materials, nuclear weapons, and other sensitive technologies.

The Q clearance grants access to Restricted Data (RD) and Formerly Restricted Data (FRD), which are particular types of classified material on nuclear or atomic information. The investigations are identical to those conducted for Secret and Top Secret clearances.

The DOE’s procurement process follows strict rules from the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and the DOE’s own guidelines. This process decides when contracts are awarded. Government contracts, especially with the DOE, are very competitive. Contractors with Q Cleared employees can stand out as more reliable and capable, making it more likely for them to win bids. Hiring Q Cleared candidates lowers the risk of security breaches and ensures compliance with DOE security protocols. These individuals have passed thorough background checks and are trusted to handle classified information responsibly.

Key Features of the DOE ‘Q’ Clearance


1. Application Criteria

DOE clearance is issued to only US citizens above 18 years of age. Eligibility criteria start with Personal Identity Verification steps, drug testing, and completion of e-QIP by the clearance applicant via the online Sandia Total Access Request Tool (START). A clearance request is submitted by Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) to the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Office of Personnel and Facility Clearances and Classification (OPFCC). Upon approval of the clearance request by OPFCC, a background investigation request is sent to the concerned investigative agency (e.g., DCSA or FBI).

2. Background Checks

The information required on this questionnaire includes detailed information about the applicant and their background. Only individuals granted the appropriate security clearance will be permitted access to classified information or Special Nuclear Material (SNM). Although different investigations are used for different levels of access, they address the same types of information, including, but not limited to:

  • Where you have lived
  • Schools you have attended
  • Your employment history
  • Reference checks
  • Your military service record
  • Foreign activities and travel
  • Your credit/financial history
  • Police records
  • Any drug and alcohol abuse
  • Any personal conduct issues

The Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA), under the U.S. Department of Defense, is responsible for conducting most background investigations. DCSA supports its purpose through various contractors, including Perspecta, CACI, and Securitas. These contractors may also use subcontractors. All DCSA-affiliated investigators carry credentials and will identify themselves as associated with DCSA.

3. Obtaining DOE Q Clearance

To obtain a Q clearance, individuals must undergo a thorough background investigation, which is the same as those used to grant Secret and Top Secret clearances in the DoD. The investigation process includes a single-scope background investigation of the applicant’s life by the OPM and the FBI over the previous ten years. The cost of a Q-clearance investigation is $5,596. The DOE security clearance process is overseen by the Department of Energy Office of Hearings and Appeals, where an individual whose security clearance is at issue may seek to appeal a security clearance decision to an administrative judge and, subsequently, to an appeal panel.

4. Maintaining DOE Q Clearance

When it comes to maintaining a healthy DOE Q clearance, it is required that the person who is holding a Q clearance adheres to the security procedures and rules that are put in place by the Department of Energy. The clearance holder should exercise caution in all personal and professional activities to avoid threats to sensitive information. It involves being mindful while interacting with individuals from foreign countries and protecting sensitive information to prevent any harm to the clearance status. Personal or professional changes such as employment status, financial status, or personal relationships should be reported to the agency, as failure could result in a loss of clearance. It is also suggested that people holding a DOE Q clearance update themselves about the security policies and procedures changes from relevant training and education programs to maintain the latest knowledge about handling classified/sensitive information critical to nuclear secrecy. Since Q Clearance requires periodic reinvestigations every 5 years, it is recommended that the person holding a Q Clearance be prepared for the reinvestigations and fully cooperate with the security reviews, audits, or investigations as required.

5. Need-to-Know Basis

The need-to-know principle in DOE Q Clearance refers to restricting access to sensitive or classified information only to individuals who require specific information to perform official job responsibilities. This principle ensures safeguarding sensitive information related to nuclear weapons, nuclear materials, and other restricted technologies, disclosed only to individuals who require legitimate access. This prevents the unauthorized disclosure or compromise of classified information and strengthens security protocols.
Many DOE projects require access to Top-Secret Restricted Data and other highly classified information. Q-cleared candidates are pre-approved to handle this sensitive information, making them essential for these roles.

6. Classification of DOE Clearances:

  • Q Sensitive: An individual holding a Q-sensitive clearance is granted access to data concerning the design, manufacturing, or utilization of nuclear weapons. Unauthorized disclosure of such information could result in severe harm to the nation.
  • L Clearance: Individuals holding an L clearance have limited access to Confidential Restricted Data (RD) but may be authorized to access both Confidential and Secret Formerly Restricted Data (FRD) and National Security Information (NSI).
  • Secret: An employee possessing a secret clearance is granted access to National Security Information related to weapons.

7. Classification of information accessed by Q Clearance Holder:

  • Unclassified Controlled Nuclear Information (UCNI)
  • Formerly Restricted Data (FRD)
  • Restricted Data (RD)
  • National Security Information (NSI)
  • Critical Nuclear Weapon Design Information (CNWDI)

iQuasar has a team of recruiters specializing in finding candidates with DOE clearances. We have the necessary experience and proven track record of success to source and place candidates for positions requiring this level of security clearance. Additionally, we have access to numerous job portals and an internal database, allowing us to find suitable Q-cleared candidates easily. Contact us today to learn more about how we can hire the right-fit candidates possessing DOE Q clearance for you.


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