Security clearance statistics for the Foreign Service
Updated: Mar 24, 2019
As I'm writing this post, I’ve been waiting for a security clearance determination for 18 months. From the day I passed the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA) and Diplomatic Security started the clearance process it’s been that long.
Ultimately, it took almost two years to get a security clearance. Read more about my timeline for the hiring process, from the day my TS clearance was initiated until the days I found out I was granted one 23 months later, in my more recent post What happens after passing the foreign service exams: my 738 days from FSOA to Register.
Even though I knew the process would take time, it got more frustrating with each passing day. It’s not that I’m mad at anyone though. I just don’t want to wait any longer to start my new job at the embassy and join the Foreign Service as soon as possible!
Because I have little to do but wait, I’ve updated the data from my blog post about why security clearances often take so long and created new charts that show self-reported data about how long other people had to wait between taking the FSOA and being added to the Register.
PROBLEMS WITH THE DATA
Everyone looking at these graphs should know that there are several flaws with the data I used: it's incomplete, because not everyone reports their dates on social media. The data is probably also inaccurate, because everyone knows that people tend to make mistakes when they're entering data.
In addition, it's important to realize that the reported waiting times gravitate towards average waiting times. The full extent of exceptionally short and exceptionally long waiting times is hard to capture at any given moment. I chose to use only the 2016 and 2017, which causes the following problem: people who took the FSOA in 2016 and had a quick turnaround time have already expired or have been hired by now, while people who took the FSOA in 2017 and had to wait a very long time (like me) aren’t even on the (shadow) register yet. So these cases aren't captured in this analysis.
Let’s take some concrete examples:
Someone who took the FSOA in June 2016 and got on the Register in January 2017 either expired (candidates expire after 18 months on the register) in August 2018, or got hired somewhere in the meantime. Either way, the data about this person is gone now.
Conversely: someone who took the FSOA in late 2016 or in 2017 and has to wait for 18-26 months (26 months is the longest wait I’ve encountered so far) wouldn’t be on the (shadow) register yet–so their data isn’t captured here either.
So why look at the data at all? Well, if you’re anything like me you just want to know what information is out there, and assure yourself that you’re not the only person waiting a long time.
I decided not to add the available data for 2018, because everyone who took the FSOA in 2018 and made it to the (shadow) register already obviously had to wait for a very short time. Hence this data isn’t representative of anything. Also, I’ll explain below why there is probably something special about very short waiting times.
The 2017 data isn’t really representative either. I took the FSOA in March 2017 and I’m still waiting for a clearance, so looking at this data only shows me information about the people who got their clearance faster than me, but doesn't tell me anything about people who have to wait 18+ months, like me.
Still, I’ll present the 2017 here because I did all this hard work collecting stats for 105 people (which is about the same number of stats I have for 2016).
The 2016 data is perhaps the most representative of all, because it includes almost all the people who had to wait for very long times. It doesn’t include people with very quick turnaround times, but in my opinion that’s okay. Why is that, you ask? Well, let's look at how to interpret the waiting times next.
INTERPRETING THE DATA
The reason you should probably ignore the 0-6 month column is that those people probably already had a TS security clearance! Maybe they already worked for a government agency in a job that requires a clearance, or maybe they were EFMs who worked at an embassy before. Also: some people have several candidacies going at the same time, which means that they were in the clearance process already when they passed the FSOA for a second time.
The reason I'm saying this is because I started to read the comments people put next to their dates on the shadow register, saying things like “already had active clearance” or “waiting for clearance transfer”.
Another reason I think this is because out of the five people who passed the orals on the same day I did, most of them had a government job that almost certainly requires a security clearance.
Finally, if you look at how long each step in the security clearance process usually takes, it's almost impossible to get a clearance within six months if you're a first-timer. Based on everything I’ve ever heard about people's timelines, consider the below:
Time it takes to submit EQIP forms: 7–30 days
Time it takes to get an interview: 1–5 months
Time it takes to complete investigation: 2–8 months
Time in adjudication: only God knows (I’d say 2 months is the absolute minimum for new clearances, but much longer waiting times are typical nowadays)
Suitability review: 1–4 weeks
Now, I'm not a math major but from what I can tell the minimum amount of time it takes someone to get a first-time TS clearance is 6 or 7 months, while the average is probably longer.
So, just for fun, here is a graph for 2016 that omits the cases that took only 0-6 months, and you get an idea of what you're up against when you are trying to get your TS clearance for the very first time:
Security Clearance: Why It Takes So Long For Foreign Service Officers
What you should REALLY read to pass the Foreign Service Exams