Security Clearances

Transitioning to a Civilian Security Clearance

As a transitioning member of the military or a veteran, you may have already navigated the process to obtain a security clearance, including passing background investigations and polygraphs. Maintaining or upgrading your security clearance as a civilian, however, is somewhat different experience. Depending on the type of clearance and job you are pursuing, the process can involve different standards and procedures, and require prolonged effort and time to complete.

The different types of jobs that require security clearances run the gamut from accounting, construction, engineering and graphic design to information technology, law enforcement, science, analysis, medicine and research. The required level of clearance depends on the agency that employs or contracts the worker. For instance, anyone who works for the National Security Agency (NSA) must have a Top Secret/SCI clearance. That requirement applies to a variety of jobs, including electrical engineers, intelligence analysts, computer science technicians, warehouse workers, human resources professionals and business managers.

An occupation requiring a security clearance will generally earn you more money annually than a non-cleared job. Higher levels of security clearance, which give greater access to more sensitive information, result in higher pay. For example, according to the 2018 Security Clearance Jobs Compensation Survey conducted by, on average, individuals with security clearances make $93,004 annually. Those within the Intelligence Community earn an average compensation of $122,243. Location also matters: Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Maryland are the top 3 highest earning geographic areas, according to this report.

Conditional Certification

Often the fastest way for transitioning military members and veterans to acquire a security clearance and start a civilian job for the government is to land a job offer from a federal contractor and pursue a Conditional Certification of Access (CCA). CCA provides certain individuals with temporary access to secure, federal information while their full security clearance process is being completed. Individuals who currently have SCI access through the U.S. military or another U.S. government agency or who had SCI access within the previous 24 months, are eligible for sponsorship under the CCA program. Nominees must meet several criteria to be submitted for CCA processing. Those include:

  • Previously approved and indoctrinated for SCI by a U.S. government agency or military service
  • Must not have been debriefed from SCI access more than 24 months before the CCA submission date
  • If a nominee requires access to NSANet, then he or she must have had a minimum of counterintelligence scope polygraph examination that has been completed in the past seven years and the polygraph must be verifiable, successful and favorably adjudicated by the other agency
  • If the nominee only requires access to the contractor facility with no NSANet connectivity, a previous polygraph is not necessary in order to process a CCA

NSA’s Contractor Clearance book lists the forms (such as a sponsorship letter, consultant agreement and supplement to an SF 86) and other requirements of a CCA application. If a nominee receives a Conditional Certification of Access, he or she subsequently must meet other requirements and complete other steps in the security clearance process. In most cases, this includes a security interview with the aid of a polygraph. Depending on the access requirements and the length of time since the last polygraph interview, the examiner will schedule either a full-scope polygraph (suitability and counterintelligence questions) or a counterintelligence scope polygraph only. Typically, a full-scope polygraph will be required if the nominee will have access to NSANet. Otherwise, the polygraph may be limited to counterintelligence. Examiners also determine on a case-by-case basis whether nominees must complete psychological, psychiatric or other medical assessments.