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Federal Employment Law

Certain federal jobs deal with sensitive information that requires a higher level of trust in the employee.

To make sure only qualified people get these jobs, the government requires these employees to obtain some level of security clearance. But what happens to that secret clearance when you leave your job? More importantly, how long does secret clearance last?

What Is Secret Clearance?

The U.S. Government grants secret clearance, also called security clearance, to people who prove themselves trustworthy enough to have access to classified information. The government further divides secret clearance into different levels based on the sensitivity of the information involved in the job.

Top secret clearance is the highest level, and grants cleared employees with the highest level of access. Confidential clearance is the lowest level, granting cleared employees the lowest level of access. Finally, secret clearance is in the middle.

How Long Does a Secret Clearance Last?

While employed as a contractor for a government agency dealing with classified information, your secret clearance will remain in effect indefinitely.

However, this doesn’t mean it will never expire. Employees with secret clearances must undergo periodic reinvestigations to make sure they’re still eligible. The exact period between each reinvestigation varies based on the level of clearance you have.

  • Five years for top secret clearance;
  • Ten years for secret clearance; and
  • Fifteen years for confidential clearance.

Other reevaluations may occur at more random intervals to make sure secret clearance employees aren’t engaging in illegal conduct.

When Does Secret Clearance Expire?

Many federal employees wonder how long does a secret clearance last once they leave their federal job? Put simply, your security clearance “terminates” when you leave your federal job permanently. However, it’s important to understand that when your secret clearance terminates, it doesn’t disappear completely.

Instead, a terminated secret clearance changes status from “active” to “current.” In other words, while you’re employed, you have an active secret clearance. When you leave that secret clearance “deactivates” and changes to current status.

So when does it actually go away? Secret clearance expiration is two years from the time it “terminates” and becomes inactive.

Can I Have My Secret Clearance Reactivated?

While your secret clearance is in current status, you can reactivate it without going through the entire approval process. If you have any other clearances on top of your secret clearance, those may need to be re-obtained after a certain period of time. Generally, however, you can reactivate your secret clearance within two years.

If My Secret Clearance Expires, Will It Be Easier to Obtain New Secret Clearance in the Future?

No. Once your secret clearance expires, you will have to start the whole process over. That means filling out Standard Form 86 again and undergoing a background investigation before your new secret clearance will be granted.

What Happens to My Secret Clearance If I Get Fired?

You might think that getting fired means you automatically lose your secret clearance. However, this isn’t necessarily true.

Remember that employment termination can happen for a variety of reasons, not all of which warrant immediate expiration of your secret clearance.

For example, if you’re a government contractor, your contract may end, leading to your termination. In this case, you likely haven’t done anything to indicate that you’re untrustworthy or no longer eligible for secret clearance.

On the other hand, if your termination involved any of the “Adjudicative Criteria” for security clearance eligibility, you’ll have any future attempts at secret clearance denied.

The Adjudicative Criteria are a list of guidelines for determining eligibility for secret clearance, and include:

  • Allegiance to the United States and any foreign influence that might affect you;
  • Personal conduct, including sexual behavior and drug and alcohol use;
  • Your psychological condition;
  • Criminal conduct; and
  • Your ability to handle protected information.

You can view the full list of Adjudicative Criteria at the website from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Does My Secret Clearance Apply to Private-Sector Employment?

Not necessarily. Although some private-sector jobs involve sensitive or confidential information, government security clearance only applies to positions working for the federal government.

Accordingly, your clearance may still be useful if you switch to another government agency or go to work for a government contractor. If you apply for a position in the private sector, however, your security clearance won’t apply.

Still Have Questions? Contact a Federal Employment Lawyer Today

The Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D Wersing, PLLC, focuses on assisting federal employees in a wide range of issues. If you’re dealing with discrimination, worried about blowing the whistle, or need more information about your rights as a federal employee, we can help.

We’ve helped hundreds of federal employees get their jobs back or stop discriminatory workplace behavior. Contact us today through our online form or by phone at (833) 833-3529 to schedule a free consultation.

Author Photo

Aaron Wersing, Attorney at Law

Aaron Wersing is the founder of the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing. Mr. Wersing graduated from the Georgia State University College of Law with a Doctorate in Jurisprudence and was the recipient of the CALI Excellence for the Future Award. Mr. Wersing previously attended the University of Georgia, where he received a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Accounting. Mr. Wersing is an active member of his local community. Mr. Wersing acts as a volunteer attorney with Houston Volunteer Lawyers, the pro bono legal aid organization of the Houston Bar Association. He is also a member of professional legal organizations such as the National Employment Lawyers Association and the American Inns of Court. To reach Aaron for a free consultation, please call him at (833) 833-3529.

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