Understanding how to navigate the PCL process
A Personnel Clearance (PCL) is a necessity for all employees who work with classified information. An employee can’t obtain a PCL without being hired onto a government contract, and once they are, their clearance will take an average of two to eight months to obtain, though it may take more or less time depending on their individual circumstances.
Due to this long waiting period, many companies prioritize hiring employees who already hold a clearance. Some companies may find ways to integrate personnel applying for a clearance into the company during this waiting period if they can find enough for them to do that doesn’t require work with classified information. However, if you’re hiring an employee for a cleared position who hasn’t previously held a PCL, you may have to accept you’ll have to wait several months between them being hired and starting their job.
Obtaining A PCL
When you hire for a position requiring a clearance, the company’s FSO will use the employee’s Social Security Number (SSN) to check to see if they already have a profile in the Defense Information System for Security (DISS), the DoD system for personnel security and credential management. A profile will exist if they’ve previously held a clearance, though there are circumstances where personnel who have never held a clearance will have a DISS profile, like if they held a public trust.
If there isn’t an existing profile, the FSO will gather information including the employee’s marital status and where they were born to create a profile in DISS. Once the FSO has filled out that information, they will put in a request for the employee to obtain a clearance and give them a login for the Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (e-QIP) which will expire after 30 days if they don’t log in before then. This will be the hub for where the employee will fill information out for the next step in the process.
Then, it’s time for them to fill out the Standard Form (SF) 86 and get their fingerprints taken. This is the part of the process where the employee is the most control over how long it takes. The SF 86 will take at least a couple weeks to fill out, though it can take much longer if they don’t dedicate themselves to getting it done. The form requires them to list references and include details like residences and employment history from the last 10 years, and it may take time to gather some of the needed pieces of information.
It’s important to for the FSO to help the employee time their fingerprinting with turning in the SF 86. If fingerprints sit in the system for more than 120 days, they’ll expire, and they’ll have to be fingerprinted again. The FSO should also emphasize the importance of honesty when filling out the SF 86. It may seem harmless to omit potentially harmful information, but it will be discovered during the investigation and hurt the employee’s chances of being approved for a clearance.
Once the SF 86 and fingerprints are sent in, the waiting period begins while the Vetting Risk Office (VRO) conducts their investigation. The employee will be approached for an interview during this time, where a Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) special investigator will ask further questions. If the VRO find any discrepancies with the SF 86 and what they find in their investigation, the form will be sent back for corrections. If the VRO don’t find issues in the early stages of their investigation, they may grant an interim clearance while the employee waits for full adjudication. With an interim clearance, they can begin working with classified information.
Maintaining A PCL
There are two levels of clearance you can obtain: secret and top secret. A secret clearance will last 10 years before a periodic reinvestigation and a top-secret clearance lasts 6 years. In a periodic reinvestigation, they will be answering questions similar to those from the SF 86, except in this case they only need to give information about the time period since their last investigation. The main difference in the PCL process for these two is the length and intensity of the interview they have to undergo.
However, a clearance will only last that long if someone is actively employed as a cleared employee. If they leave or are fired from their job where their PCL is used, they have 12 months to find another cleared position before they lose their clearance. If their PCL is revoked before they find another job, they will have to start the PCL process over from the beginning if they wish to hold one again.
This is also true if you are looking to elevate the employee from a secret to a top-secret clearance. They will again need to fill out the SF 86, send in their fingerprints and undergo an investigation and interview.
Ultimately, the PCL process takes a significant amount of time that will be largely dictated by the dedication of the employee seeking a clearance. If you’re seeking help in managing PCLs for your company, Adamo can help with our FSO support services. Contact us today to see how we can help lighten your load of FSO responsibilities.