Cover: Assessing Misperceptions Online About the Security Clearance Process

Assessing Misperceptions Online About the Security Clearance Process

Published Jul 20, 2023

by Marek N. Posard, Sina Beaghley, Hamad Al-Ibrahim, Emily Ellinger


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Research Questions

  1. What types of information about the security clearance process are online?
  2. Where are opportunities to clarify areas of confusion about the clearance process?

The purpose of this report is to describe and analyze information and potential misinformation available online about the security clearance process that could lead to misperceptions about the process. The security clearance process may seem confusing and opaque to the public, leading some people to seek clarity from others about their own experiences. Seeking out this kind of information from acquaintances, friends, and family is nothing new, but access to the internet allows people to search for additional sources that might offer answers to their questions, as well as inquire of a larger number of people on public forums about this process.

Reviewing the questions and content on such forums provides insight into what people are asking — and what answers they are getting — and reveals areas in which there are potential misperceptions about the process.

Key Findings

  • Government sources are comprehensive but more difficult to understand versus nongovernment sources.
  • Most nongovernment information online is not necessarily false but could lead to misperceptions.
  • Popular topics discussed in online forums could lead to misperceptions by some users.


  • The federal government should develop and release more accessible, easy-to-understand content that explains the nuances of the security clearance process and includes explanations about the whole-person concept, risk factors, and factors that may mitigate risks.
  • The federal government should periodically assess online information about the security clearance process to understand what information and misperceptions should be addressed.
  • The federal government should consider an effort to conduct targeted outreach on some of these online forums that directs users to more official sources.
  • The federal government should evaluate the effectiveness of outreach on popular online forums.

This research was sponsored by the Security, Suitability, and Credentialing Performance Accountability Council Program Management Office and conducted within the Personnel, Readiness, and Health Program of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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