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Security clearance?

By 4 March 2011 15

Security clearances. Are they the insane hassle they seem to be? To me they seem like the biggest catch 22 around. I’ve been contracted to a Govt dept for the past 12 months, coming up to the end of my non-ongoing contract. I’ve started applying for new jobs (both govt and private) for about the last 2 months, and have been turned down for countless roles simply because I don’t hold a clearance.

It’s my understanding that the process of gaining a clearance is very drawn out and can take an extremely long time to process, thus the appeal of candidates who already hold current clearances.

How then are you supposed to gain a clearance? I’ve read there’s no way to gain one by yourself, as you need to be sponsored by a govt agency in order to obtain one, yet agencies (for the most part) don’t want to know about you unless you hold one. Of course my whole two months of searching for a role may not indicate the greater reality of the situation, but I’ve heard from several people in the APS it’s a fairly common occurence due to the way the clearance process works.

Has anyone else been through a similar experience, and is it really just a case of eventually landing that one lucky job that will pay for it and put you through it?

I’m struggling with the idea that all these potential and well suited positions are passing me by, for the simple fact that I don’t have a piece of paper saying I’m trustworthy.

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15 Responses to
Security clearance?
Alf 1:30 am
05 Mar 11
#1

It should not be too big a deal if you just need a protected or highly protected clearance. This involves providing 5 or 10 years worth of history respectively. That is a pain in the ass if you have moved a lot or travelled a lot and live in a share house. (I had to provide dates for around one hundred overseas trips on mine!) But once you return the paperwork, you can get a provisional clearance immediately from memory while they spend 3 months faffing about to grant the official clearance. If you are more than willing to do the paperwork, then not having a clearance is not a legitimate bar to giving you a job. I suppose it could be a factor if you were in all other respects ranked equal with another candidate who did have a clearance, not that they would state that officially. Just make sure any panel knows you are happy to apply for one in your closing wrap if you are worried about it.

JC 7:32 am
05 Mar 11
#2

If you are applying for a job as an APS officer (as opposed to a contractor), then a lack of a current security clearance is irrelevant as they cannot select based on that. Besides most government departments do their own clearances anyway so if you don’t already work for that department how would yet ever get the job? Though yes before someone jumps on this comment clearly it isn’t hard in most cases to transfer a clearance from one department to another.

I’ve never understood why there isn’t a centralised clearance department covering all departments. Guess it makes too much sense.

benno1 8:54 am
05 Mar 11
#3

Australian Government Security Vetting Agency (AGSVA -part of Defence) has now taken over vetting for all Gov agencies. There is no longer the old hirachy of levels, it has been simplified into baseline (protected and below), Negative vet 1(secret and below), NV2 (Top Secret NV and below) and TS PV.

Once you have a clearance, you can transfer it around to any department with you. Provisional clearances are not easy to get anymore and there has to be a damn good business case put forward to be granted one.

If you are the most suitable person for the job however, you will get the position regardless and the department will sponsor the clearance, it just may take a while before you can start.

Primal 11:57 am
05 Mar 11
#4

benno1 said :

If you are the most suitable person for the job however, you will get the position regardless and the department will sponsor the clearance, it just may take a while before you can start.

I’m not sure any agency would regularly be in a position to be able to add a three month buffer to its recruitment processes. Most agencies advertise with an eye to starting ASAP (after notice to any current employer and the like) – the “death” of the provisional clearance is, I think, a serious issue.

scorpio63 6:36 pm
05 Mar 11
#5

Hi Jimbop, if you are applying for temporary government contracts the following [based on experience as a contractor in the past] is the following:
Send your resume and hard copy references to 6 departments to be placed on their Temporary Register. State the names and contact details of your Referees in the covering note or email.
Next, shoot off an email to the Ombudsman with a brief complaint in an email describing the problem.
The best agency to use, in terms of clearances not being a pre-requisite [upfront] for some Depts, are Kelly Services. The staff over past years have for the main part been terrific.
The Government brought in the pre-requisite back in 2007 using ‘terrorism’ as the reason.

As we know, what this has done, is to reduce the number of contractors employed within the public service, particularly at the 2-6 levels, impacting upon SES, Staff’s and the public service’s work/efficiency and productivity across the board.

Agencies complain they cannot fill the roles for the public service [when contracts are on offer between 0-12 months], the SES complain that the Agencies could not find anyone to interview or fill the roles, stakeholders complain that projects are lagging or processes not worked through properly, add to this, Federal, DEEWR, Labor and other Employment Consultants are stating FALSITIES proclaiming that there are NOT enough skilled public servants and contractors to be employed in the private sector and government agencies and departments.

I read a load of rubbish in either the C/Ts or Chronicle last week, where a Business and Commerce representative for the A.C.T. reported that there was a shortage of skilled people [admin was my understanding] at the time, in both the private sector and the public service.

They may be employing contractors who have held security clearances from one x 2mth contract, who are not suited to the type of work and results produced, by short term contractors, who have worked both for well over ten years.

The problem exists when a temporary contractor takes a break in between short term contracts and the department has only bothered doing a protected or highly protected clearance.

Security clearances are a waste of time as all contractors are required to have a crim check done in addition to signing an oath and departmental contract agreeing and binding to all public service regulations.

Background checks performed on what an employee fills out on forms, does not necessarily uncover all activities/a full past, that the potential employee has carried out.

ASIO and the AFP have fully investigated all of my past up until 2009 via Highly Protected clearances. As I am a short term contractor, nobody bothered paying for Secret clearances

Now, for every contract applied for, the whole process is repeated [wasting a great deal of tax payer funds, time and resources of the AFP and ASIO], when all that is required, is an update via a criminal check to bring me up to date!

Jimbob, I stick with the departments who know me, re-requesting my services which are some private enterprises mixed with Commonwealth and A.C.T. Government roles, who quickly conduct a 24hr crim check prior to commencement [as my protected and highly protected recent records are on file]. Most ASO4 and ASO5 roles are fairly privvy to crises/emergency management issues and highly sensitive material, however to date I have signed and adhered to all Employer related confidentiality regardless of the type of clearances.

After all, as a contractor or permanent employee, it would not pay to do otherwise!

LSWCHP 8:08 pm
05 Mar 11
#6

This seems pretty odd to me.

I work in a secure environment in private enterprise, and the only thing that interests us is the candidates ability to obtain a clearance. Whether a person currently has one or not is entirely irrelevant to us in making employment decisions.

Have you explicitly been told “you didn’t get the job because you don’t currently have a clearance”?

youami 8:24 pm
05 Mar 11
#7

It really depends on a) the level of clearance, b) where you are going to be working, and c) if you have been a good lad. Having a clearance is not strictly correct as higher level clearances (secret and above) generally don’t count unless you are working in that position –so when pimps say you must have a current clearance that really means you used to have a clearance and can get your files transferred across to the new agency with only a little bit of paperwork. Maybe you need to get an entry-level clearance first or at least look for positions that don’t require the rigour it seems you are getting blocked at. Also, don’t listen to pimps! They know didley about agencies!

Primal 11:17 pm
05 Mar 11
#8

LSWCHP said :

I work in a secure environment in private enterprise, and the only thing that interests us is the candidates ability to obtain a clearance. Whether a person currently has one or not is entirely irrelevant to us in making employment decisions.

But on what basis can you determine their ability to obtain a clearance other than putting them through the process?

LSWCHP 11:51 pm
05 Mar 11
#9

Primal said :

LSWCHP said :

I work in a secure environment in private enterprise, and the only thing that interests us is the candidates ability to obtain a clearance. Whether a person currently has one or not is entirely irrelevant to us in making employment decisions.

But on what basis can you determine their ability to obtain a clearance other than putting them through the process?

Our experience over many years has been that citizens with verifiable backgrounds and clean records will get clearances up to secret without any drama. If someone says they meet those requirements then based on past experience we assume they’ll be ok.

AussieRodney 2:47 pm
06 Mar 11
#10

benno1 said :

Australian Government Security Vetting Agency (AGSVA -part of Defence)

Nope, separate agency.

malbert 6:48 pm
06 Mar 11
#11

AussieRodney said :

benno1 said :

Australian Government Security Vetting Agency (AGSVA -part of Defence)

Nope, separate agency.

From http://www.defence.gov.au/agsva/about.htm

“…the Australian Security Vetting Service (ASVS) has transferred from the Attorney-General’s Department to the Department of Defence under a Machinery of Government Change … The AGSVA is situated within the Defence Security Authority”

tammyj 11:43 am
07 Mar 11
#12

As the third comment states, all security clearances are now handled by a central agency, and are now transferable between departments with no extra paperwork or fuss. All information given to you about processes, time taken to receive a clearance, amount of information required etc that dates previous to this event are no longer applicable.

I’ve been hiring a number of contractors for a federal department on year long contracts in the last three months and can tell you the following:

If you are the best person for the job, the department will pay for your clearance no matter the length of your contract etc. There are no caveats. If you get the job and you don’t already hold one of the new clearances, they pay for you to be cleared.

Yes, there’s quite bit of paperwork for you to assemble for your first clearance, but there are now not as many forms to complete as previously (all forms and processes have been streamlined).

All of my contractors have started before they have received their clearances – the requirement for you to start is for you to have submitted the forms (ie proven willing to undergo scrutiny), so gathering the data required is the only delay. The only restriction due your not already holding a clearance before you start is that you won’t be allowed to work on anything or have access to anything that is not unclassified until the clearance is received. (By the way, this has always been the case.)

The time taken to receive a clearnace really varies from person to person. A person who has not moved very often, has not lived overseas, or travelled overseas very much, who has no “interesting” factors in their lives and has been very good at recordkeeping for a very long time will probably receive their clearnance in a couple of weeks. Any factor you add to that will increase the time taken to track down and check the veracity of what you’ve provided. You also have to take their workload into account, so you may just have hit a peak period for them, and be unlucky in the length of time it takes to receive your clearance. But this is rarely an issue, and your dept can always just assign you to other work until you receive your clearance. In the 12 years I’ve been in the APS (as both a contractor and a permie), I’ve never heard of this being an issue.

Personal data gathering – this is the part of a clearance that always up the most time. My advice is:
* Keep a document listing the addreses of everywhere you’ve stayed, be it staying with friends, travelling (onshore or overseas), lived for more than a week etc, and the dates between which you were there. Update it every time you move or travel.
* Have a section in that document where you keep the full details of all your immediately family members (full names, dates of birth, full place of birth, married to’s, current addresses and phone numbers, and whether you’re in contact etc)
* For every address you’ve lived at, make sure you keep one official communication from a bank, Medicare or anywhere where you’ve had to prove your identity. This communication must detail your name and address, and can be a receipt, a bank statement, a letter or anything, as long as the criteria above are met.
* Make sure you keep the receipts for everywhere you’ve stayed for more than a week, and make sure they have their address, your name and the dates you were there on them.
* Keep copies of everything you’ve sent for every clearance you apply for.
* Keep all of this together in one place, along with your birth certificate and any other official certificates or evidences, like citizenship, marriage, divorce, name change etc.

I haven’t personally been through the new process as yet, but I can guarnatee that if you already have all this info easily at hand, you can speed up the process of submitting, and then receiving your clearance significantly. It may still take them a while to process you, but there won’t be delays while they’re waiting for extra info from you, :)

bronal 12:42 pm
07 Mar 11
#13

Jimbop is spot on here. I took a VR from Health and Ageing last July and, after the mandatory exclusionary period, started to look for work. I worked in the APS for over 30 years and was reasonably confident of finding work in my field. I am in the ‘mature’ age group and am looking for contract work, not a permanent position. At DoHA my security clearance was at the ‘confidential/restricted’ level, which I thought was reasonable, given the work I was doing. People in positions requiring a higher level of security clearance were assessed accordingly.

Imagine my surprise to find out that quite a few agencies require contractors to have ‘protected’ level clearance. This has cost me at least three contracts. Where and how do they expect contractors to get this level of clearance? You can’t get it until you’re working and you can’t get the job unless you’ve got the clearance. A real Catch-22! Plus, AFAIK, clearances expire after 2 years anyway.

About the best you can do is get an AFP police clearance certificate ($43) which will show that you have no current criminal offences on file.

There is supposed to be a shortage of experienced staff in the APS, especially at the APS5/6 levels I’m looking at. Why not take previous APS experience into account?

EvanJames 1:05 pm
07 Mar 11
#14

Very good info from TammyJ. I’m pleased they’ve made one agency, as the silly nonsense that Defence would pull, not recognising clearances from other departments, was ridiculous.

I got a TS NV as my first clearance but it was in the bad old days when it took forever to get high clearances done, as the protective services mob doing them were snowed under (about 5 years ago). The paperwork TammyJ outlines is spot-on. People who are pack rats will have all the paperwork easily to hand.

having a high clearance certainly makes temporary contracts easier to get, and I had no problem moving mine around the various departments (except Defence), they just had to get your authority to move the file to the new place, and you’d fill in some paperwork filling in the gaps since the last time your records were updated (ie overseas trips, religious cults joined, murders committed etc).

I happily let it expire when its 5 years were up. I could have gone back into a contract and let the agency get me another 5 years on it, but I was over it and the process and vetting to re-new a clearance is a bit brutal, since now you’ve had a clearance, you’ve no doubt been beset with spies trying to turn you to the dark side. So they set out to find out how many spies you’re being paid by or blackmailed by.

Skidbladnir 1:38 pm
07 Mar 11
#15

bronal said :

Imagine my surprise to find out that quite a few agencies require contractors to have ‘protected’ level clearance. This has cost me at least three contracts. Where and how do they expect contractors to get this level of clearance? You can’t get it until you’re working and you can’t get the job unless you’ve got the clearance. A real Catch-22! Plus, AFAIK, clearances expire after 2 years anyway.

The former ‘Protected’ is the new ‘Baseline’.
It lasts for up to 15 years, iirc.
(Highly protected, Confidential, and Secret are now Neg Vet 1, TSPNV is Neg Vet 2, TSPV is Pos Vet)

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