Its seems to happen on a weekly basis that a candidate we work with will be sure their clearance is active only to find out when our Facility Security Officer (FSO) searches JPAS (Join Personnel Adjudication System) that it has expired. There also is a consistent idea that since they had it before “I can get one quick, I’ve already had one”. This isn’t necessarily correct. If you leave a cleared role to work in the commercial sector, you only have two years before your clearance becomes inactive. Even if you have a Secret clearance and are 8 years away from needing a reinvestigation, it will lapse without being assigned to a contract requiring a clearance. If you are outside 2 years without using your clearance it will not require a full reinvestigation if you stay within your scope. However, if your last clearance level was Secret and you are now trying to obtain a Top Secret clearance you will need to go through the full SSBI.
Over the last few years a backlog of investigations by the Defense Security Service (DSS) has made it nearly impossible for a company to hire someone without a clearance. The firing of a federal contractor responsible for the bulk of background checks in 2014 created a backlog of hundreds of thousands checks that has persisted. Even a few years ago you could get an interim clearance in a few weeks and the employee could work on unclassified projects until the investigation was concluded. For the right person, companies would essentially sacrifice having them paid for busy work because they weren’t cleared to work on specific networks or programs. Now an investigation will take at least six months with the average for a Top Secret investigation of 220 days and many times longer. That’s why more than ever, to stay within the DoD world it’s imperative to keep your clearance active. Depending upon the level of clearance, you’ll need to. If you have a Secret clearance you will need to be reinvestigated every ten years, and every six years for a Top Secret (DSS changed the scope of the SSBI for a TS from 5 to 6 years effective 1 January 2017 to give some relief to the backlog of SSBIs). Some great opportunities and projects may come around though, but if you want to stay within DoD long term just be careful. You don’t want to wait until the last minute to find a new role, have your clearance expire and then be back in the six month backlog.