How are Security Clearances Granted?

Once it is determined that a military member or contractor requires a Security Clearance because of an assignment or job availability, the individual is instructed to complete a Security Clearance Background Investigation Questionnaire. As of May 2001, DOD requires that this form be completed by use of an internet based application known as eQIP, instead of the old hard-copy SF-86 form.

However, it’s not necessary to have the eQIP program to see what questions are asked in the questionnaire. They are exactly the same as on the paper SF-86.

When completing the questionnaire for CONFIDENTIAL, and SECRET Clearances, it’s necessary to provide information for the previous seven years of employment, living locations etc. For TOP SECRET Clearances, one must provide information for the previous ten years of employment, living locations etc. It’s important to note here that giving false information on a Security Document constitutes a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 101. Fraudulent entries may lead to fines and imprisoned for a period of five years. If you are in the Military, under the UCMJ, the maximum punishment includes reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, confinement for a period of five years, and a dishonorable discharge.

You should be aware that answering all of the questions on the SF86 accurately is very important, it is taken as evidence of your reliability and honesty.

Indeed, if your clearance would not otherwise be denied, it could still be denied if it is discovered that you attempted to conceal information about yourself. It is also possible that even if your clearance were granted, it could later be revoked if dishonesty on the forms is later discovered.

If you realize after you have handed in the form that you have inadvertently made a mistake or omitted something important, please tell your Security Officer, Recruiter, MEPS Security Interviewer, or the OPM Investigator when you are interviewed. If you do not do so, the error or omission could be held against you during the adjudicative process.

Once you complete the eQIP, the document is sent to the Defense Security Service (DSS) or Office of Personnel Management (OPM). DSS/OPM are responsible to verify the information and perform the actual background investigation. The level of investigation depends upon the level of access to be granted.


A National Agency Check (NAC)-A computerized search of investigative files and other records held by federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

A Local Agency Check (LAC)-A review of appropriate criminal history records held by local law enforcement agencies, such as police departments or sheriffs, with jurisdiction over the areas where you have resided, gone to school, or worked.

Financial checks – A review of your Credit Record.

For Top Secret Clearances, a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI) is performed which includes all of the above, plus:

Field interviews of references to include coworkers, employers, personal friends, educators, neighbors, and other appropriate individuals.

Checks of records held by employers, courts, and rental offices.

A subject interview – An interview with you by an investigator.

These inquiries are performed by one or more investigators who work in the geographic area where the information is to be obtained. NACs, however, may be performed electronically from a central location. OPM uses two types of investigators to conduct these investigations; OPM Agents and Contractors.