Everything You Need To Know About TS/SCI Clearance
Updated July 31, 2023
A hallway shows two rows of databases in operation, with another group of databases at the far end of a computer room.
To access classified information, individuals must first prove they’re willing and able to keep such information secret. Those who have shown that they can keep sensitive information secure may be given a top secret or sensitive compartmented information (TS/SCI) clearance. TS/SCI clearance can help you to increase your earning potential and qualify for high-level positions in the government, military and private sector.
In this article, we’ll describe how to get a TS/SCI clearance, followed by the types of jobs that would require such high-level security clearance.
What is top secret or sensitive compartmented information clearance?
TS/SCI clearance allows you to access sensitive information that is not available to the public. Sometimes, this can mean access to data, information or even technology that is only available to those with the appropriate clearance level. Often, the type of data that someone with a TS/SCI clearance might access involves national security. To keep citizens safe, the agencies who grant TS/SCI clearance only provide it to trustworthy people who need this level of clearance for their work.
There are different levels of security clearance, ranging from confidential to top secret. TS/SCI is one of the highest levels of security clearance, meaning that anyone who has this level of clearance has access to highly sensitive information.
Related: How To Get a Security Clearance
How to get TS/SCI clearance
To receive a TS/SCI clearance, follow these steps:
1. Gain sponsorship
An ordinary citizen cannot request TS/SCI clearance on their own. A sponsor must request this type of clearance on your behalf. Often, government agencies such as the FBI or CIA require some level of security clearance for the people they employ. There are also civilian companies that require some level of security clearance, especially if the company specializes in sensitive data such as finance or internet security, or if the company works closely with government agencies.
While some companies have their own process of vetting someone for TS/SCI clearance, many agencies ask you to complete Personnel Security Questionnaire (SF-86) and provide extensive information on your personal history. Most times, you must inform them of any international travel you have made in your lifetime and up to 10 years of information detailing your address and work history. Companies that offer you a position that requires TS/SCI clearance may add that the job that is contingent upon successfully receiving this clearance.
Related: What Is a Contingent Job Offer?
2. Undergo a background check
Anyone seeking a TS/SCI clearance must undergo a background check. The agency or agencies responsible for processing your application—typically the Office of Personnel Management, the Defense Department and the Office of the Director of the National Intelligence—also interview your family, friends, acquaintances and previous employers.
The agencies review all the information you provided on your application to ensure you are being honest. It's in your best interest to give them complete and accurate information from the beginning so you are likely to pass the verification process and receive TS/SCI clearance. If the information they find through their research conflicts with what you've told them, you may not be eligible for this security clearance, or you may need to go through the process again.
3. Take a polygraph test
Sometimes, agencies require a polygraph test during the processing of your application. They use this step to verify information or determine your fit for working with national security issues. Some employers may not require this step, but agencies like the CIA require candidates at all levels to complete a polygraph test before considering them for employment.
Some agencies may be more likely to request a polygraph test if they suspect you have connections to people in foreign countries who may use their relationship with you to gain access to sensitive information. Polygraph examiners may also ask if you have secrets or financial troubles that could make you vulnerable to outside influences who may use that information against you.
4. Complete adjudication
During this step, the agency or agencies decide whether to award you TS/SCI clearance. This stage may take a lengthy period of time, particularly if they need to confirm anything you provided or said during your polygraph test or background check. You may also receive requests for further information during this stage.
You may appeal the decision if you receive a denial at this stage. An agency may deny a candidate clearance for reasons like inconsistent answers, drug use, criminal conduct or missing information on the application.
5. Keep up with reinvestigation
Even if an agency grants you TS/SCI clearance, it does not last forever, so you need to undergo a reinvestigation some time after you've begun working. For TS/SCI clearance, you must usually do this every five years or if your employer or a government agency revokes your clearance for any reason before then. If your clearance lapses due to a job change or similar situation, you may also need to go through reinvestigation.
Your clearance level changes depending on your current employment and when you last needed security clearance for work. Clearance levels include:
Active TS/SCI clearance: You currently have a job that requires TS/SCI clearance.
Current TS/SCI clearance: You worked in a position requiring TS/SCI clearance within the past two years.
Expired TS/SCI clearance: You have not worked in a position requiring TS/SCI clearance for two or more years.
Types of jobs that require TS/SCI clearance
While many of the jobs that require TS/SCI clearance are in the government or military, some civilian jobs also require some type of security clearance. Companies that work in counter-intelligence or data security also hire candidates with TS/SCI clearance. Often, companies that require security clearance are especially interested in candidates who already have some level of clearance, as the process of getting TS/SCI clearance can be costly and time-consuming.
Here are some government agencies that often require security clearance:
Central Intelligence Agency
Department of Defense
Department of the Treasury
Drug Enforcement Agency
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Federal Emergency Management Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
National Security Agency
These types of companies may hire candidates with TS/SCI clearance:
Technical and engineering companies
Aerospace and defense manufacturers
Health care manufacturers
Additive manufacturing companies
Information technology support companies
These positions that may require TS/SCI clearance:
Frequently asked questions
What type of background check is necessary for a TS/SCI clearance?
To qualify for TS/SCI clearance, it's necessary to undergo a detailed background check to verify your work experience, education and personal history. At a minimum, the government requires that you be a citizen of the United States, prove that you have no drug dependencies and meet the overall qualification standards. This type of background check is often more thorough and comprehensive than a general one you might undergo for a nongovernmental job.
How long does it take to get a TS/SCI clearance?
The time it takes you to qualify for a TS/SCI clearance may depend on several factors, including whether you already have an active clearance. The background check process can take several months to complete, and your polygraph test may also take several months to process, depending on the government agency. If you're applying for the first time, it may take between eight and 15 months to obtain your clearance.
How much can I earn with a TS/SCI clearance?
According to Glassdoor Salaries, the average salary for a TS/SCI linguist is $112,587 per year. Your annual salary with a TS/SCI clearance may depend on several factors, including the agency you work for, your specific role and your primary responsibilities. Note that the figure from Glassdoor helps supplement information from Indeed.
Is a polygraph test always required for a TS/SCI clearance?
The counterintelligence-scope or CI-scope polygraph examination might be necessary for certain TS/SCI clearances, depending on the agency, but it's not a general requirement. Such a polygraph test might include questions related to espionage, terrorism and unauthorized disclosure of classified information. It might also ask about your family relationships, drug and alcohol use, mental health and addictive behaviors. Government job descriptions typically specify whether a TS/SCI with a polygraph is necessary for a specific position.
What are the requirements for keeping a TS/SCI clearance active?
A TS/SCI clearance requires a periodic reinvestigation every five years, and it becomes inactive when you transition to a new career in the civilian sector and there's no longer a need for the clearance. If your clearance is close to expiring, it's important to consider your options for reactivating it and maintaining your sponsorship. You can keep your clearance active by working in positions that require an active TS/SCI clearance. Many job boards allow you to filter roles based on clearance level.
Is a TS/SCI the top clearance the government provides?
There's no formal clearance level higher than TS/SCI, although there are different distinctions within the government or military for people who handle highly sensitive information or work on classified projects and actively hold a clearance. There are also no requirements for candidates to have previously worked in cleared job to secure a TS/SCI clearance, but having a secret clearance may make it easier to obtain one. Since the TS/SCI clearance level supports access to highly classified information, there are typically fewer available jobs compared to other clearance levels.
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