Things I learned while waiting for my clearance

After 232 days of waiting, my clearance (initial Secret, DoD contractor) is now final. My file was clean other than some foreign contacts who I met in graduate school. I just posted a detailed timeline here.

Here are some of the things that I learned that I didn’t know before I started:

  1. A contingent job offer (CJO) is not the same as a job offer. If you accept a job offer that requires a clearance to start, you should treat it like a job offer that may take a year or more to materialize. Go out, live your life. Apply to other jobs in the mean time, since it is possible that your offer will be terminated before you are cleared or that you might not be able to hack waiting forever to start. Any cleared contractor or agency will understand that not everyone can wait several months for a job to materialize.
  2. Be patient and meticulous when filling out the SF-86. This form is not just a formality, nor should you view it as another hoop to jump through on your way to employment. Spending an extra hour or two to find exact dates and to double check certain numbers can save you weeks or months of waiting. Nobody knows you better than yourself, so don’t expect an investigator to be any quicker at verifying your facts than you could be. As for me, it’s entirely possible that I was denied an interim clearance simply because I accidentally listed my passport validity dates incorrectly (off by one day).
  3. Everyone has a different investigation experience. While this site can be very useful for learning about the process in general, it is nearly impossible to translate one person’s clearance process to your own. Each person has their own items of interest and mitigations. Different agencies, clearance levels, locations, investigators, and times will result in different timelines. For me, I was very surprised that none of my contacts or employers were contacted, but yet I had an in-person interview for a Secret clearance.
  4. Contacting your Congressperson can be effective, but should be done with care. U.S. Reps’ and Senators’ offices have a defined, effective pathway to inquire about the status of security clearances and to expedite the remaining work. This helped me out a ton since I and my company expected me to get an interim, and the ‘interim pending’ determination put me in a situation where I couldn’t financially afford to wait indefinitely. The Congressional inquiry caused my file to move immediately, but I was rightly admonished by the investigator that this put my file forward at the expense of other people who had also been waiting patiently. If you are able to work without the clearance or have an interim, then I don’t think this is a valid avenue until you have been waiting way past the average.

Hi danorou,

Regarding contingent job offers (CJO). If for whatever reason a person fails to obtain clearance using a SF-85, I understand that the job will be terminated. Some government contractors have their employees start work way before their clearances are obtained. Having said that, if a person fails to obtain their clearance, are they “fired” from work? This raises a concern because no one wants to have a “fired” red flag on their work history!