Security Clearances Requirements for Individuals in National Security/Sensitive Positions
The Need for Security Clearances
Very few of the NIH staff require security clearances. Security clearances are based on an individual’s position and their need to access materials, attend meetings, and/or have access to areas that require a security clearance. Security clearances are determined and granted by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The security clearance process is a separate process from the background investigation process. Staff needing a security clearance would require a minimum of a Tier 3 or Tier 5 level background investigation to request a security clearance. The position designation and level of the background investigation would determine the level of security clearance requested. The position description and duties performed must reflect the requirement for a security clearance before one is requested. A security clearance should not be requested unless there are meetings or functions performed where the employee would require the security clearance.
Please note that security clearances are not transferrable from agency to agency, as they are position specific. For more information, feel free to read the DCSA FAQ page.
1. Tier 3 or 5 background investigation
- The AO will be responsible for ensuring NED reflects the correct position designation level for the position, as well as providing a justification in NED that supports the need for security clearance. The justification must include the level clearance being requested.
Tier 3 = Secret
Tier 5 = Top Secret
Tier 5+ = Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI)
* The need for SCI clearance is very rare, and to meet this requirement, the employee would need to use this security clearance on a monthly (or more often) basis
** Tier 3 investigations more often than not do not require a security clearance (i.e. Select Agent and Biosurety Programs)
2. Position Description (PD) OR equivalent (T42 package) – FTEs are either on a PD or are under a Title 42
- The PD will need to include the need for the clearance and the level being requested
- The position on the title should match what is listed on the HHS 207 and OF-8 (see below)
- T42 packages will need to include the position duties and the need for the clearance level being requested (salary information can be redacted)
- T42 packages need to be complete and signed by OHR, however they do no require an OF-8
3. Optional Form 8 (OF-8) – The OF-8 Should reflect sensitivity level 2, 3, or 4 (based on the level of security clearance needed):
- Box 1 –- Agency Position No.
- Box 12 –- 2-Noncritical Sensitive = Secret, 3-Critical = Top Secret, 4-Special Sensitive = Sensitive
Compartmented Information (SCI)
- Box 16 –- if applicable
- Box 17 –- Employee Name – cannot be listed as vacant
- Box 20 –- Supervisor’s Name, Title and Signature
- Box 21 –- OHR’s Name, Title and Signature
The following items must be complete when submitting the form or it will not be accepted by OSSI/HHS
Your HHS-207 (Request for Security Clearance)
The HHS-207 Request for Security Clearance are for individuals in Sensitive Positions who require a security clearance only and the form can be found here. The justification should include the following items to support the request:
- The level of clearance needed
- The duties being performed to support the need for clearance
- The justification cannot be written in first person
Please note: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS-207) clearance justification statement must specifically explain the need for access to classified national security information and the highest level of access required, and this must be filled out by the program office/OHR and signed by the employee and supervisor.
Other Important Notes:
Security clearances are not granted to Foreign Nationals or Contractors (in most cases) at NIH/Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
Security clearances are not granted until the Tier 3 or 5 level investigation is complete and favorably adjudicated. This process is lengthy and your office should plan accordingly. The current average OPM processing time for a Tier 3/5 investigation from submission to being closed complete is 163 days for a Tier 3 and 383 days for a Tier 5.
Security clearances are not transferrable across agencies. For example, if an individual held a security clearance at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) prior to coming to NIH, the security clearance will not transfer to NIH. Likewise, if the individual holds a security clearance for his/her position at NIH, it will not transfer to another agency when the individual leaves. The security clearance is specific for the position the individual holds at NIH. If the individual had a security clearance prior to coming to NIH, then the process generally takes less time to process.
Periodic Reinvestigations for Individuals with Security Clearance
- Tier 3 = periodic reinvestigation required every 10 years
- Tier 5 Critical Sensitive = periodic reinvestigation required every 7 years
- Tier 5 Special Sensitive (with SCI) = periodic reinvestigation required every 7 years
No longer need a security clearance?
Any time an individual's position is changed throughout their NIH career and if a security clearance is no longer needed, contact our office at ORSpersonnelsecurity@mail.nih.gov. We will schedule a time for the indivdual to be debriefed.
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