An overview of what a PCL is and how to obtain and maintain it
A Personnel Clearance (PCL) is a necessity for anyone whose job requires access to classified information. PCLs can be held by both full-time and contracted employees working for companies holding a Facility Clearance (FCL). Anyone seeking a PCL will work with the company’s Facility Security Officer (FSO) on obtaining it. There are a few levels of PCL a person can possess based on the type of information they’ll be working with or project they’ll be on.
What is a PCL?
The three main types of PCLs are classified, secret and top-secret clearances, with classified being the lowest level of access and top secret being the highest. The level you need will be determined by the type of information you’re working with.
There are additional clearances you can have on top of these that will allow you more specialized access, like a Secure Compartmented Information (SCI) clearance that will allow you access to SCIFs or a Special Access Program (SAP) clearance that means you can work in a SAPF. These require you to be read into the program. These additional clearances are especially common for military personnel, as they may need access to a SCIF or SAPF or other organizations or programs.
Obtaining a PCL
The process to obtain a PCL begins when it’s determined you have a “need to know,” meaning you have a specific need to have access to classified information, whether that be for a new job or a need within your existing job to now access classified information. The company FSO will initiate the process and send you a login to the Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (e-QIP) online system. You have 30 days to log in, after which you will use e-QIP to fill out Standard Form (SF) 86.
The SF 86 is a large form and some of the questions may require you to do some research. We recommend setting some time daily to complete it, as it tends to take a couple weeks to gather all the information necessary. The form requires you to list every place you’ve lived in the last 10 years, every place you’ve been employed and background on members of your family. You also need to include information on people who can verify your past residences and employment history who aren’t members of your family. Along with the SF 86, you need to submit fingerprints. Your FSO will help you on timing the submission of these correctly, as your fingerprints will expire in the system after 120 days and the SF 86 expires after 90 days if you haven’t completed it, so you want to make sure these are submitted at a similar time so neither expires before the other is ready.
Once you submit your form and fingerprints and they’re received by the Vetting Risk Operations Center (VROC), the waiting game begins as they conduct their investigation and verify the information you provided. The time it takes for the investigation will vary depending on factors such as if you made any mistakes or left anything out of your form, how much information needs to be verified, and if you have a criminal past. In total, the process to obtain a PCL takes four months on average.
Keep in mind that lying on this form is never a good idea; you will be caught, and it will impact your ability to obtain a clearance. It’s also a federal crime that can result in up to five years in prison. Having a criminal record also doesn’t necessarily prevent you from being able to obtain a clearance. The investigation is looking at you as a whole person and trying to determine if you can be trusted with classified information. One incident from your past will not necessarily disqualify you, but it may increase the investigation time.
Once you receive either an interim or full clearance, you will receive your initial briefing, be read into the program you’re working on and fill out the SF 312, an NDA which will give you official access to the program. If you have further clearances, like an SCI, those will require another briefing.
Maintaining a PCL
All employees holding a PCL need to be enrolled in continuous evaluation. You will provide updates every five years on if there are any changes to the information included in your SF 86. Previously, different levels of clearances had to go through reevaluations after different amounts of years, but it’s now five years regardless of your clearance level.
While holding a PCL, you need to follow the reporting requirements laid out in 32 CFR Part 117, NISPOM, including marriages, major financial changes and any foreign travel. Criminal activity can put your PCL at risk, as can failing to meet security requirements in your facility.
Along with the initial briefing you receive when starting at your job, you’re required to complete an annual refresher briefing each year. These will be provided by your employer and will review the key information you need to know as an industrial security professional. There may also be additional required briefings if there are changes to requirements that cleared employees need to be trained on.
When leaving a cleared position, you complete the debriefed section of the SF 312 and have your access to cleared information revoked until you start in another cleared position. If you leave your cleared job, you have 12-18 months to get another one before you lose your clearance and have to restart the PCL process from the beginning at a new cleared job. However, if you are fired from your job because you’re not adhering to security requirements, your clearance will likely be revoked when you leave the company.
You can also hold a PCL as a contracted employee. You still have to make sure you start a new job within 12-18 months of the previous job to continue to hold your PCL, so look into your next position before your contract ends to ensure you won’t risk your PCL expiring.
If you’re an FSO looking for guidance in navigating the PCL process or support in any other of your responsibilities, Adamo can help. Our FSO support services will partner with you and can help with anything from PCL management to briefings to insider threat program creation.