The DOE Personnel Clearance Process

Person signing paperwork

The Department of Energy (DOE) Personnel Security Program establishes requirements that ensure its missions are accomplished in a secure environment by men and women in whom both the Department and the American people may place their complete trust and confidence. An indication of this trust and confidence is a security clearance.

A security clearance is an administrative determination that an individual is eligible for access to classified information. An access authorization is an administrative determination that an individual is eligible for access to particular types or categories of classified information or material. Unless otherwise indicated, the term "security clearance" encompasses the term access authorization.

No individual will be provided access to classified information or Special Nuclear Material (SNM) unless that individual has been granted the appropriate security clearance and possesses a need-to-know. Access to, knowledge of, or possession of classified information or SNM will not be afforded to any individual solely by virtue of the individual’s office, position, or security clearance.

Security clearances and access authorizations denote an individual’s eligibility for access to a particular type of classified information or material, such as National Security Information (NSI), Restricted Data (RD), Formerly Restricted Data (FRD), or Special Nuclear Material (SNM). In determining such eligibility, DOE may investigate and consider any matter that relates to the determination of whether access is clearly consistent with the interests of national security. Generally, DOE issues Q and L access authorizations.

An individual’s eligibility is based on the completion of a personnel security investigation conducted for DOE by the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), or other federal agency authorized to conduct background investigations.

Application Criteria
  • Only U.S. citizens who are at least 18 years of age are eligible for a DOE clearance. For SNL employees, the Clearance Office must receive proof of citizenship within three working days from the date of new-hire sign-in.  For SNL subcontractors, the contracting companies are responsible for verifying U.S. citizenship of their employees applying for a clearance.  Also see "Acceptable Evidence of U.S. Citizenship" under ‘ DOE Clearance Topics of Interest’.
  • Applicants for and current holders of DOE L or Q clearances are subject to applicant, random, and “for cause” drug testing.
  • New employees are subject to initial pre-employment background reviews (PEBR), even when a clearance is not required.
  • Consultants are subject to pre-processing background reviews, unless they already possess a verifiable federal agency clearance.
  • SNL contracting companies are required to complete background reviews of their personnel who are submitted for clearances.
  • For all Members of the Workforce, subsequent background reviews may be initiated in association with a request for clearance reinstatement following an absence from work (e.g., leave of absence) over one year in duration, or of any duration when the previous background review is older than one year, or when no record of an earlier background review exists.
  • Sandia will not process clearances for off-roll employees or contractors who are not authorized under a current contract.
  • Foreign Nationals (i.e., any person who is not a U.S. citizen or a U.S. national) are not eligible for clearance processing.
Sequence of Events

Upon completion of requisite actions (e.g., Personal Identify Verification steps, drug testing, completion of e-QIP) by the clearance applicant—the following events occur via the online Sandia Total Access Request Tool (START):

  • The SNL Clearance Office submits a clearance request to the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Office of Personnel and Facility Clearances and Classification (OPFCC).
  • OPFCC reviews the clearance request and upon approval submits a background investigation (BI) request to the applicable federal investigative agency (e.g., DCSA or FBI).
  • Upon completion of the BI, a report is forwarded to OPFCC for adjudication as the determining authority. The amount of time in the adjudicative process varies according to the nature and extent of the information reviewed.
  • Based on its adjudication, NNSA grants or denies the clearance and notifies the SNL Clearance Office accordingly. Only the decision itself, not the surrounding reasons, are provided to SNL.
  • The SNL Clearance Office notifies the applicant of NNSA’s decision and, if applicable, authorizes issuance of a cleared badge. In the event of an unfavorable decision, the individual is also directly notified by NNSA.
DOE Adjudication

Security clearance determinations are based on information acquired through the investigation conducted on the applicant or employee or otherwise available to personnel security officials.

All individuals’ initial and continued eligibility for security clearances are adjudged against the Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information (National Guidelines). Where DOE has no information related to any of the areas of concern identified in the Guidelines, either from the report of investigation or from other sources, a favorable determination must be made. Where DOE has information related to any areas of concern identified in the Guidelines, either from the report of investigation or from other sources, such information will be regarded as derogatory and create a question as to the individual’s security clearance eligibility. If questions as to the individual’s security clearance eligibility can be favorably resolved in accordance with the processes and considerations set forth in the Guidelines, the appropriate security clearance must be granted or continued.

The adjudication process is the careful weighing of a number of variables, known as the whole person concept, utilizing the National Guidelines. In evaluating the relevance of an individual’s conduct, the DOE will assess the disqualifying and mitigating conditions outlined in the National Guidelines, which take the following factors into account:

  • the nature, extent, and seriousness of the conduct
  • the circumstances surrounding the conduct, to include knowledgeable participation
  • the frequency and recentness of the conduct
  • the individual’s age and maturity at the time of the conduct
  • the voluntariness of participation
  • the presence or absence of rehabilitation and other permanent behavioral changes
  • the motivation for the conduct
  • the potential for pressure, coercion, exploitation, or duress
  • the likelihood of continuation or recurrence
DOE Due Process for Adverse Determinations

If clearance applicants are found to not meet the standards for access to classified information, DOE initiates the Administrative Review procedures to deny or revoke a security clearance, as set forth in 10 CFR 710. These procedures are established to ensure that an individual is afforded full due process in a manner consistent with traditional American concepts of justice and fairness. The individual will be notified directly by DOE and the SNL Clearance Office for additional information and instructions.