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I have an internship at a government contractor and just handed in my security clerance papers (TS/SCI). I heard they are expensive to sponsor, if I decide not to return to the company in the future will it be a big deal to them? I have more ambitious plans but the job security of this internship is reassuring. I also know it takes a long time to be granted a clearance. Could I have it by the summer in 4 months? If I get a better offer I probably won't return the following summer so I'll feel guilty for all the trouble.

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    Wow, I've never heard of a contractor getting security clearances for interns, especially anything above Secret. What written and informal agreements have you made with them? – Monica Cellio Jan 13 '15 at 23:18
  • Regarding the time frame, you should ask your employer. They should have a good idea how long clearances take to process for their interns. (However, they are probably fairly confident that it can be completed in time; otherwise why would they even start the process?) – Nate Eldredge Jan 15 '15 at 20:37
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I've been through the clearance process before and can offer some help.

Firstly...it is very likely you may not have it by the summer, depending on how long the gov't takes to do the clearance. I am assuming you live in the US. Right now, OPM is very backlogged and it could be months before they even look at your case. Then, the length depends on many things:

  1. If red flags come up, it will take longer to adjudicate.
  2. If you've traveled out of the country or have lived in many places, it will take longer to verify.
  3. If people you've put in the form have busy schedules, it will take longer for the investigators to interview them
  4. If you require a polygraph, you may be called back many times since they often have muddled results.

And many others.

As for your employer, defense contractors know they have a possibility of eating this cost (either by you leaving, or if there is too much dirt on the person to allow them to have a clearance). Believe me, contractors are paid LOTS of money by the gov't. You do not own the company, so do not be concerned with things out of your pay grade.

A note about interim clearances versus full clearances:

Interim clearances are given when an employer needs you to work on an assignment right away and does not have time to wait for you to get a full clearance. This is basically a quick check by the gov't to ensure you are not a terrorist, wanted by the FBI, have huge debts, or a criminal record. I had a secret, so this took about a month for me to get. TS/SCI takes about the same (maybe a month or two longer).

After the interim, they will start to go through the real screening (interviews, etc.) which could take months for secret to over a year for TS/SCI depending on how extensive the investigation is. Please note that an interim clearance does not guarantee a full clearance. I have seen people be escorted off gov't premises while they were working because an issue came up in the investigation which caused the clearance to be denied. It can and does happen.

One word of caution not relative to the question...do not lie to them especially for a TS/SCI. Trust me, even if you get the clearance, the anxiety of living a lie and having your career be in potential jeopardy is just not worth it.

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    Good answer. Can you add something about the speed of interim clearances? In my case that came back pretty quickly (a couple months I think) while the real clearance took longer, but this was several years ago. – Monica Cellio Jan 13 '15 at 23:20
  • Done. Let me know if it needs anything else :) – Lawrence Aiello Jan 14 '15 at 14:32
  • Thanks for the additions! (You already had my upvote, but now it's even better.) – Monica Cellio Jan 14 '15 at 14:44
  • @LawrenceAiello Do you know, if you have clearance in progress, what happens if you leave the company paying for it? Does OP have to remain in the company until it is granted if he wants to have it? – FreakyDan Jan 14 '15 at 15:05
  • @FreakyDan I do not know that, sorry. – Lawrence Aiello Jan 14 '15 at 15:28
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I work in government contracting, and it is quite common to get a secret clearance during an internship, and not return to the company. The cost of the clearance can come out of contract money (provided by the government), so its not like your current company is forking over profit.

Its generally in your best interest to get one as this will make it easier to get other government jobs, and all it requires of you is a day of paperwork. This will make it much easier for you to get a job at other DoD contractors, and cost you nothing but a little bit of company time.

The only reason to NOT apply for a clearance is if you will likely be denied. Having a felony conviction, drug conviction or multiple DUIs will likely cause you to be denied. Also being excessively in debt will cause you to be denied (though I've never head of someone being denied because of student loans). Being denied usually leads to immediate termination at your company.

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