U.S. Department of State Clearance Processes

Part of the eligibility requirements for the William D. Clarke, Sr. Diplomatic Security (Clarke DS) Fellowship program is your ability to obtain and maintain medical and security clearances and suitability requirements.

Diplomatic Security Service (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. For this reason, Clarke DS Fellows must satisfy medical, suitability and physical readiness standards that are more rigorous than those of most other professions. Therefore, fellows must be fit for strenuous physical exertion and pass a Bureau of Diplomatic Security administered physical readiness test prior to selection and prior to Foreign Service onboarding.

Below is a summary of what these clearances entail. To download a printable PDF of this information, click the Download button below.


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.

Medical Clearance Process

Fellows must obtain and maintain a Class One medical clearance and pass the additional Special Agent supplemental medical requirements in order to remain in the program. The medical clearance process often takes a couple of weeks, although the process can be longer depending on the situation. Fellows will receive decisions on their medical clearance from the State Department.

The Office of Medical Services of the Department of State determines a candidate’s medical fitness and ability to serve overseas. Many Foreign Service posts are located in remote areas with extremely limited medical support. Each fellow, therefore, must meet rigorous medical standards in order to qualify for the required worldwide medical clearance and pass the supplemental medical requirements for the Special Agent position. Medical clearance determination by Medical Services is based on its thorough review of each fellow’s medical history and a physical examination, including an individual assessment of his/her specific medical needs and the medical capabilities of Foreign Service posts to meet those needs.

The Department’s Office of Medical Services determines whether a candidate is medically eligible for assignment to all Department of State posts worldwide. While a candidate may effectively manage a chronic health condition or limitation within the United States or in specific areas outside of the U.S., the Office of Medical Services might well determine that the same individual is not eligible for a worldwide (“Class One”) medical clearance. Such clearances may only be issued to candidates whom the Office of Medical Services deems able to serve at the most isolated and restricted overseas posts.

Some posts could face extreme isolation due to limited air and other transportation service, and unreliable Internet, telecommunications, and postal and delivery systems. Any of these limitations can have a severe adverse impact on the availability of required medical services and supplies or delay timely medical evacuations.

Some countries have inadequate infrastructures such as a poor or negligible public health care system, poor sanitation, unreliable electricity, and a lack of potable water. There may also be infectious and communicable diseases, such as malaria, dengue fever, typhoid, tuberculosis, rabies, encephalitis, and gastrointestinal diseases. There may be no health unit at the post and next to no local medical facilities. The local emergency room, for example, might be completely inadequate, without ventilators, defibrillators, x-ray capabilities, etc. There are often no blood banks or limited medical supplies and medications available locally. Due to political instability, security could be a concern. Fellows should be aware that these posts are neither few in number nor confined to a specific geographic region.

There are numerous posts where conditions appear similar to that of the U.S. but which also suffer from some of these restrictive characteristics. As a result, stress levels among employees may be very high. Given these concerns, Fellows must be able to obtain and maintain the required medical clearance to remain in the program.

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.