1. Security Clearance FAQs
  2. Getting a Security Clearance

Why does it take so long to get a security clearance?

A breakdown of the clearance process and potential delays that could occur.

Some security clearance determinations are made relatively quickly. Others may take a year or more. For these cases part of the answer involves the applicant and requires a better understanding of the process. There are three phases to clearance processing: 1) application, 2) investigation, and 3) adjudication. In the past most clearance delays occurred during the investigation phase. Due to process improvements and Trusted Workforce reforms, the average time for investigations has been reduced over lengthy timeframes of 500+ days that occurred prior to 2018. Today most of the delays in getting a clearance occur in the application phase and the adjudication phase. The problems that cause these delays are:

  1. The applicant is not available for a Subject Interview
  2. Missing or inaccurate data on security clearance application forms
  3. Problems involving fingerprint submission
  4. Serious security/suitability issues
  5. “Queuing time”

Problem #1 occurs during the investigation phase and is usually due to the applicant being out of the country. If the applicant is in a war zone, the Subject Interview is usually conducted when the applicant returns to the United States. There can also be substantial delays when an applicant is in a location such as Germany, Japan, Great Britain, or South Korea.

Problems #2 and #3 occur at the application phase and can result in an application being rejected by the CAF or ISP and returned to the requestor. About 5% of all clearance applications are rejected. This can result in delays of 30 to 60 days. Reviews of applications at the CAF and at the ISP before an investigation is opened can only discover obvious errors and omissions. These reviews do not discover wrong addresses, telephone numbers and dates, nor do they discover omitted foreign travel, relatives, residences, employment or education. These errors and omissions are only discovered during the investigation phase where the case can also be delayed.

Problems #4 and #5 occur primarily at the adjudication phase and can result in much longer delays. Serious issues may require additional information or investigation. When a CAF requests additional information or investigations, it can delay a case for months. A certain amount of queuing time is necessary for efficient operations, but when there is a backlog of cases with major issues, queuing time becomes excessive.