Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
DOE Personnel Security
The Personnel Security Program ensures that individuals
who are being considered for access to classified
information or special nuclear material (SNM) meet
national standards of honesty, reliability, and trustworthiness.
Because each Federal agency's program is similar,
most questions come from personnel who have never
had a security clearance (DOE calls it an access authorization)
or who are confused because they had clearances at
agencies that had requirements that differ slightly
from DOE's. Additional information for applicants can be found at "Overview of Access Authorization Process for Applicants".
Q: How does drug use impact my ability to get
an access authorization?
A: Use of illegal drugs, abuse of prescription
drugs, and misuse of other substances such as inhalants
raise concerns about an individual's eligibility for
an access authorization. Such activities call into
question the person's willingness to follow rules
and requirements, reliability, and good judgment.
In general, individuals involved with illegal drugs
or substance abuse will not be granted an access authorization
if the activity occurred within the year prior to
the application for the access authorization. If the
activity occurred within two years, the full circumstances
surrounding the activity will be evaluated and the
individual may qualify for an access authorization,
although it is unlikely that he or she will do so.
Information pertaining to drug use which occurred
more than two years ago will not be automatically
disqualifying for an access authorization but will
be fully evaluated with all other available information
in order to determine whether the individual should
be granted an access authorization.
Q: I've heard that DOE is changing its policies
on drug testing and the use of illegal drugs. What
kind of changes will be made?
A: In late 2006, the Secretary established
a task force to conduct a review of DOE's personnel
security program. On March 15, 2007, the Secretary
accepted the unanimous recommendations of the task
force in several areas, including a recommendation
to change and enhance the Department's policies regarding
the use of illegal drugs. These changes could include
establishing requirements for drug screening for applicants
for access authorizations, and increasing the population
subject to random and "for cause" (incident
or reasonable suspicion) drug testing to include everyone
who holds an access authorization. With regard to
this last change, current drug use policies provide
for including such positions in the "testing
designated" category, although in many cases
such individuals have been included in testing programs
only if they fall under the Human Reliability Program.
Q: I've just been told that I need a background
investigation in order to get a security clearance
for a job I'm applying for. Is there somewhere I can
get some information on that process?
A: The Office of Personnel Management (OPM)
conducts the majority of background investigations
for the Federal government. They have published a
guide that answers some of the most frequently asked
questions about the investigations process. You can
find it on-line at http://www.opm.gov/extra/investigate/QABackground.asp.
Q: I saw an ad for a job with DOE. It said that
I would need a DOE access authorization. What is that,
exactly? Is it the same thing as a security clearance?
A: It is almost the same. A DOE access authorization
is an administrative determination that an individual
is eligible for access to classified material when
required by his or her official duties, or is eligible
for access to or control over special nuclear material.
It is very similar to the security clearances granted
by other Federal agencies for access to classified
National Security Information. One major difference
is that DOE access authorizations permit access to
Restricted Data, a special category of classified
Q: I saw an advertisement for a job with a company
that has a contract to perform work for DOE. The job
sounds perfect for me, but the ad said that applicants
must have a DOE access authorization. I don't have
one. Can I still apply for this job?
A: Yes, you can definitely apply for the job.
DOE requires that the following statement appear in
advertisements for positions in which the selectee
will need an access authorization: "Applicants
selected will be subject to a Federal background investigation
and must meet eligibility requirements for access
to classified information or matter." Under certain
conditions, a security clearance from another Federal
agency, such as the Department of Defense, may provide
a rapid path to obtaining a DOE access authorization
under the recent reciprocity initiative. Moreover,
requiring job applicants to hold an access authorization
in order to apply for the job is not permitted under
Q: I currently work for a company where I am required
to have a Top Secret security clearance. If I apply
for a job that requires a DOE access authorization,
and I'm selected, will I have to have a new background
investigation? I just had one two years ago.
A: If you have a current, Top Secret security
clearance, and your investigation was completed within
the previous five years, you won't need to have another
investigation in order for DOE to grant you an access
authorization. The access authorization will be granted
based on "reciprocity:" the principle that
a security clearance or access authorization at the
same level granted by any authorized Federal agency
must be recognized and accepted by all other agencies
without making the individual complete new forms or
undergo a new investigation. Under reciprocity, a
final Secret clearance would result in an L access
authorization and a final Top Secret clearance would
support the granting of a Q access authorization from
DOE. You would only need a new investigation if you
were applying for a position that requires a higher
type of access authorization than the one you hold.
For example, if you hold a Secret clearance, and the
position you are applying for requires a Top Secret
(Q) access authorization a more extensive investigation
will be required.
Q: What if my last investigation was completed
5 years ago?
A: DOE can still accept your current security
clearance under the principles of reciprocity. But,
Executive Order 12968 and its implementing documents,
which govern the administration of security clearances
and access authorizations within the Executive Branch,
require that individuals who hold Top Secret clearances
or Q access authorizations be investigated every 5
years. So, if your current employer hasn't already
started an update investigation for you, you'll be
asked to submit paperwork right away so that DOE can
request the update.
Q: Back up a minute! You just mentioned a "Q"
access authorization. What is that and how does it
relate to the Top Secret, Secret, and Confidential
clearance terminology I'm familiar with?
A: Top Secret, Secret, and Confidential security
clearances refer back to the level of National Security
Information to which an individual may have access.
Because DOE is granting access to Restricted Data
and special nuclear material, it uses different terminology.
Generally speaking, there are two types of access
authorizations, the L and the Q. The L access authorization
corresponds to the background investigation and administrative
determination similar to what is completed by other
agencies for Confidential and Secret National Security
Information access clearances and the Q access authorization
corresponds to the background investigation and administrative
determination similar to what is completed by other
agencies for a Top Secret National Security Information
access clearance. In addition, because RD information
is more sensitive than NSI information, access to
Secret Restricted Data requires a Q access authorization.
Q: I'm employed by a DOE contractor and I currently
have a Q access authorization. I saw a job advertised
in the paper that required a Top Secret clearance.
Based on what you just said, would the agency that
advertised that job accept my Q?
A: Under the reciprocity guidelines, a Q is
the equivalent of a Top Secret. The investigation
required for a Q is the same as the one required for
a Top Secret, and with a Q an individual can be given
access to Top Secret National Security Information
if his or her duties require it. Unless the position
in question has special requirements, your DOE Q should
be accepted by the agency filling that job in the
same way that DOE would accept a Top Secret clearance
for a position requiring a Q.
Q: What do you mean by "special requirements?"
A: For access to some classified information,
such as Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI)
or Special Access Programs (SAPS), additional requirements
or special conditions may be imposed by the information
owner even if the person is otherwise eligible to
be granted a security clearance or access authorization
based on reciprocity. Two common ones are the requirement
for the individual to have a polygraph or counterintelligence
polygraph examination before being hired, and the
requirement that the individual not have any foreign-born
Q: Once I've been granted an access authorization,
will I have to have another investigation?
A: Yes. Because individual circumstances can
change in ways that might impact a person's ability
to responsibly handle classified material, anyone
who has an access authorization must be reinvestigated.
Executive Order 12968 and its implementing documents
require that individuals who hold a Q access authorization
(or a Top Secret clearance) must be reinvestigated
at least every 5 years. Someone who holds an L access
authorization (or a Secret clearance) will be reinvestigated
at least every 10 years. However, DOE is not required
to wait 5 or 10 years before conducting the reinvestigation.
A reinvestigation may be initiated at any time if
the individual's conduct raises a security concern
(for example, if the individual is arrested or frequently
violates security procedures), or to determine that
the individual has not repeated a pattern of conduct
(such as drug use or financial issues) which might
impact his or her continued eligibility for access
to classified information.
Q: How do you determine if an individual can be
granted an access authorization?
A: The decision to grant or deny an individual
an access authorization is based on a review of information
that he or she supplies and information that is gathered
during the background investigation. All of the information,
both positive and negative, is considered against
a set of adjudicative guidelines which are promulgated
by the White House as implementing documents for Executive
Order 12968. Each guideline covers a broad security
concern, the issues which may arise under that concern
and the information which may mitigate the security
concern. Personnel security specialists receive training
in making decisions based on the guidelines and must
document what they considered in deciding whether
or not to recommend granting an access authorization
to an individual. Information concerning the issues
that are considered under the adjudicative guidelines
can be found in 10 Code of Federal Regulations 710
(10 CFR 710), which outlines DOE's criteria for making
access authorization determinations.
Q: What if DOE decides that I am not qualified
for an access authorization? Do I have any right to
appeal the decision?
A: Yes. If DOE proposes not to grant an access
authorization to an individual, a formal process called
Administrative Review (AR) is implemented. AR ensures
that the individual is granted full due process rights,
including the right to see all the information that
has been used to make the determination and to present
any information that he or she wants to have on the
record. Information concerning the AR process can
be found in 10 CFR 710.
Q: How can I get a copy of the information in
my personnel security file?
A: Information in your personnel security
file falls into two categories, the information you
provide to DOE and which DOE develops about you; and
the information which is collected about you by the
investigative agencies during a background investigation.
You can obtain copies of information DOE develops
about you and copies of items such as your security
forms directly from DOE by making a request to the
Privacy Act officer at the site where the personnel
security office that handled your file is located.
Copies of your background investigation must be requested
from the Privacy Act officer at the agency that conducted
the investigation. The request should include your
full name, social security number, date and place
of birth, signature, and home address. For the Office
of Personnel Management, which conducts the majority
of DOE's investigations, the request should be sent
to: FOI/PA, OPM-FIPC, P. O. Box 618, Boyers, PA 16018-0618.