U.S. Department of State Clearance Processes

Participation in the William D. Clarke, Sr. Diplomatic Security (Clarke DS) Fellowship program is explicitly conditioned upon your ability to: meet a minimum medical qualification standard, including supplemental physical qualification standards specific to Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Special Agents; receive and maintain a Top Secret security clearance with eligibility for Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI); pass a Suitability Review; and pass a Physical Readiness Test (PRT) prior to a final offer of employment and onboarding as a DSS Special Agent.

Minimum Sensory Standards

As part of the supplement physical qualification standards, DSS Special Agent applicants must meet certain minimum sensory standards. This includes various tests for vision in each eye, with and without correction, as well as audio-metric standards for hearing in each ear (use of a hearing aid is not permitted), sufficient to satisfactorily perform an Agent’s duties. For example, uncorrected distant vision must be 20/100 or better in each eye and corrected to 20/20 in one eye and 20/30 or better in the other eye. Applicants must also pass color vision and depth perception tests.

Physical Readiness Standards

DSS Special Agents must perform duties in the field that are physically and mentally demanding. Special Agents must be willing and able to meet these physical demands in high-stress, high-threat environments.

Physical demands may include, but are not limited to, intermittent and prolonged periods of running, walking, standing, sitting, squatting, kneeling, climbing stairs, quickly entering and exiting various vehicles, pushing, pulling, dragging objects or people, wearing heavy body amour and gear, as well as carrying and fully operating a variety of firearms. DSS Special Agents must also endure long or unusual hours, inclement weather, lack of sleep, rest, or meals, jetlag, extremes of heat and cold, and wet or polluted environments.

Applicants must pass a thorough medical examination, which includes a cardiovascular stress test conducted or authorized by the Department of State’s Office of Medical Services.

For these reasons, Clarke DS Fellows must satisfy medical, suitability and physical readiness standards that are more rigorous than those of most other professions. Fellows must be fit for strenuous physical exertion and pass a Bureau of Diplomatic Security administered pre-employment Physical Readiness Test prior to receiving a final offer of employment and onboarding as a DSS Special Agent.

Below is a summary of what the Security Clearance and Suitability Review entail.

Security Clearance Process

The security clearance determination process begins when fellows are selected for the fellowship. Within two weeks after being selected, fellows will be contacted by a Security Clearance Coordinator from the Department of State who will walk them through the steps necessary to complete an online application for the background investigation. The Clearance Coordinator will also explain the process for obtaining and submitting fingerprints.

The time needed for security clearance determination processing varies depending on a number of factors. The security clearance process involves a comprehensive background investigation, conducted by the U.S. Department of State in cooperation with other federal, state, and local agencies. This investigation provides the information necessary to determine a candidate’s suitability for appointment to the Foreign Service and for a Top Secret security clearance.

The process considers such factors as: failure to repay a U.S. Government guaranteed loan or meet tax obligations; failure to register for the Selective Service; past problems with credit or bankruptcy; unsatisfactory employment records; a criminal record or other violations of the law; drug or alcohol abuse; and less than honorable discharge from the armed forces.

Candidates who hold dual citizenship, have had extensive travel, education, residence and/or employment overseas, or who have foreign contacts, a foreign-born spouse, immediate family members or relatives who are not citizens of the United States, should be aware that the clearance process will take longer to complete. The background investigation includes interviews with current and previous contacts, supervisors, and coworkers. Candidates who do not receive a security clearance are ineligible for the fellowship.

Suitability Review Clearance Process

Upon completion of the background investigation and medical examination, a State Department Suitability Review Panel will examine your file (minus any privileged medical information) to determine your suitability for employment with the Foreign Service.

The attainment of U.S. foreign policy objectives depends substantially on the confidence of the public (both American and foreign) in the individuals selected to serve in the Foreign Service. The Department of State, therefore, requires the highest standards of conduct by employees of the Foreign Service, including an especially high degree of integrity, reliability, and prudence. Given the representational nature of employment in the Foreign Service, employees must observe proper standards at all times. The purpose of the suitability review is to determine, from the candidate’s total record, whether the candidate is indeed suitable to represent the United States. The Suitability Review Panel has the authority to terminate a candidacy.

In evaluating suitability, the Suitability Review Panel takes into consideration the following factors:

  • Misconduct in prior employment, including marginal performance or inability to interact effectively with others.
  • Criminal, dishonest, or disgraceful conduct.
  • Misrepresentation, including deception or fraud, in the application process.
  • Repeated or habitual use to excess of intoxicating beverages affecting the ability to perform the duties and responsibilities of the employee’s position.
  • Trafficking in or abuse of narcotics or controlled substances.
  • Reasonable doubt as to loyalty to the U.S. Government.
  • Conduct which clearly shows poor judgment and or lack of discretion which may reasonably affect an individual or the agency’s ability to carry out its responsibilities or mission.
  • Financial irresponsibility, including a history of not meeting financial obligations or an inability to satisfy debts.