Once a US Government Agency has confirmed a security clearance is required for your position you will receive notice to complete a Standard Form (SF85 or SF86). In most cases, you will be directed to a website to complete this Standard Form online via the Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (e-QIP) system.
This form will require you to list detailed information about your background (residence(s), education, employment, relatives, friends, criminal history, financial history and more).
Generally, you will be given a window of time (1-2 weeks) to complete this paperwork and submit it to the US Government for further processing.
Once you have completed the paperwork (the SF form), the information is forwarded to an investigating division or agency. While some Federal agencies perform their own investigations, most are performed by another Agency. Most recently, the Office of Personnel Management |(OPM) and the National Background Investigation Bureau (NBIB) conducted most investigations. In the future, (expected as of October 2019) the Department of Defense and its newly created Defense Counter-Intelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) will be conducting investigations.
Once your investigation has been assigned, Investigators from all over the country can be assigned to work on your individual case. They will interview a variety of people (friends, coworkers, supervisors, etc.) from your life and review various records (employment, court, educational, etc). During the investigative period you may also be contacted to meet with an investigator to review the paperwork you completed. The interview can take a few hours and you will review each question and answer you provided.
Investigators will complete reports from all of their interviews and records reviews. Once all of the information comes together, sometimes from various parts of the world, all of the information is reviewed to ensure nothing was overlooked. This review should not be confused with an adjudication review.
During this review there may be information that needs clarification or follow-up. In this instance your investigation/case will be re-assigned to investigators and the investigative process will begin again. Which means delay.
You can see the importance of providing complete and accurate information from the start on the SF form will prevent unnecessary delays to your investigation
Once the investigation is concluded the investigator’s report will be reviewed by an adjudicator. This person or team will review all of your information and decide what level of clearance, if any, they can approve based on 13 adjudicative guidelines.
When an adjudicative decision has been made you will be notified of the decision. If you are denied you will be issued a Statement of Reasons that will include information about how to appeal the decision. If you are granted a clearance you will be informed about your responsibilities that accompany the specific level of clearance granted.