Clearance for Cabinet Members and Appointees

I do NOT want this to turn political. If is does, I will request that it be deleted. Having said that:

It was reported yesterday that the president is considering revoking the clearance of the former head of the CIA and FBI along with others.

Question . . . How do these people get their clearance in the first place? If my father were nominated to be the next head of the FBI, he wouldn’t go through an 18 month investigation and poly.

Along with that, what happens when they lose their jobs? I assume that James Clapper can’t show up at my facility, wave a badge at the guard and come in and start accessing classified information. But, does he retain his eligibility for two years as I would if I left my job? Is it longer? Does he retain some level of clearance even as a former employee?

Let’s keep this clean and on point . . . Please . . .


I read that news last night. Why should they continue to have clearance when not working the job? Double standard as usual.


Not the direction that I want the conversation to go. Of course, these people are held to a different standard. They are at a completely different level of employment AND access. They are there to directly advise the president and congress. They aren’t sitting in an office working on one little piece of software for a larger project and most are career members of their organization who started at or near the bottom and they probably did, originally go through the same process that the rest of us have.

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@EdFarmerIII, I certainly hope you will not delete this as I think this is an excellent thread and I look forward to many fruitful discussions on the subject.

How do they get their clearance? If they were career fed employees, they probably simply have their clearance reciprocated. If not, the FBI has the “jurisdiction” to investigate them. I believe an office (Office of Security Personnel??) in the White House will adjudicate them.

From my understanding, the two-year rule usually does not apply to those appointees. The fact that they still retain their security clearance eligibility is more of a courtesy and can be revoked if the President deems so. Moreover, those appointees also often consulting services to current administrators on the whip (quick phone calls and such).


Does anybody remember Sandy Berger stuffing documents down his underwear to remove them from the National Archives . . .

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Does a Senate-confirmed official (as distinct from a merely presidentially-appointed official) even need a security clearance, while holding the job to which he or she has been appointed and confirmed?

Serious question–as Congressmen and Senators do not require security clearances, as they are deemed to have been given a public seal of approval/vetting for access to the nation’s secrets via their elections to that office. (A number of them would likely not qualify under the normal standards!) They do, of course, still require a “need to know” to actually access classified information, which will vary greatly by committee assignments, etc.

So does Senate confirmation function the same way in negating the need for clearance? Senate-confirmed appointees arguably undergo much stricter scrutiny than most Senators or Congressmen, with all of the disclosure forms and committee questionnaires they must fill out.

It seems that nobody wants to, or nobody can, answer this question.

Is it possible that, as the head of the executive branch and commander-in-chief, the president can simply clear these appointees with a stroke of the pen?

Go here:

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Theoretically, the President can. The President is the custodian of the security clearance since clearance itself is really derived from Executive Order 12968. So, the President can simply simply grant clearance eligibility to literally anyone. The only limitation I see will be Dept of Energy clearance, since it is derived from an Act in 50’s (I will need to double check on that or anyone can freely comment on that).

Senate confirmation does not negating the need for clearance only with exception to Supreme Court Justices. Members of Congress, President and Supreme Court Justices are constitutional officers; thus, they don’t go through the process. All others will need to, including political appointees.


Presumably the Vice President is exempt too, in that case, since he is also named in the Constitution.

That is correct because the Vice President is a member of Congress, according to the Constitution.

Question . . . How do these people (Cabinet Members & Appointees) get their clearance in the first place? If my father were nominated to be the next head of the FBI, he wouldn’t go through an 18 month investigation and poly.

Answer: Under the current system and law and as reported by the Congressional Research Service, “security clearances are not mandated for the president, vice president, members of congress, Supreme Court justices, or other constitutional officers”. The real question is what is the purpose of security clearance? It is to measure trust in an individual based on information access within a specific job family. Not all FBI Agents have the same clearance level because the “job” and “need to know” determines the level of trust the government needs from that individual. Most agencies determine appropriate level of clearance from confidential to SCI based on the positions requirement for accessing to classified information. The important point is background investigation’s purpose is to determine, in an objective, non-political manner if the person is dependable, trustworthy, and reliable.

To answer your question directly, if your father wanted to be the head of the FBI, he would have to have a clearance.

Outside your question but on a related topic is why not require background investigations for presidential, vice presidential, congressional, Supreme Court justice, or other constitutional officer candidates? Seems their jobs would require the same or higher “need to know” that an Intelligence Analyst at the FBI’s CTD would need. Of course, Congress could amend the Constitution as they did with the 22nd and include the requirement for a background check to run for President, but then it would put pressure for those same members to hold themselves up to the same standards as an FBI Summer Intern. Sure, it would require more taxpayer’s money to be spent, but it might be money well spent. After all whose job should require a background check and higher clearance, the FBI Honor’s Intern or the President of the United States of America?

As former Director Robert Mueller once said, “If security is an inconvenience, tough!”