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Q clearance or Q access authorization is the Department of Energy (DOE) security clearance required to access Top Secret Restricted Data, Formerly Restricted Data, and National Security Information, as well as Secret Restricted Data. Restricted Data (RD) is defined in the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 and covers nuclear weapons and related materials. The lower-level L clearance is sufficient for access to Secret Formerly Restricted Data (FRD) and National Security Information, as well as Confidential Restricted Data, Formerly Restricted Data, and National Security Information. Access to Restricted Data is only granted on a need-to-know basis to personnel with appropriate clearances.
A Q Clearance is equivalent to a United States Department of Defense Top Secret clearance. "For access to some classified information, such as Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) or Special Access Programs (SAPS), additional requirements or special conditions may be imposed by the information owner even if the person is otherwise eligible to be granted a security clearance or access authorization based on reciprocity."Anyone possessing an active Q clearance is always categorized as holding a National Security Critical-Sensitive position (sensitivity Level 3). Additionally, most Q-cleared incumbents will have collateral responsibilities designating them as Level 4: National Security Special-Sensitive personnel. With these two designations standing as the highest-risk sensitivity levels, occupants of these positions hold extraordinary accountability, harnessing the potential to cause exceptionally grave or inestimable damage to the national security of the United States.


In addition to classification levels, three categories of classified matter are identified: Restricted Data (RD), Formerly Restricted Data (FRD), and National Security Information (NSI). The employee must have a security level clearance consistent with his/her assignment. Common combinations are reflected in the table on the right.
Much of the DOE information at this level requires access to Critical Nuclear Weapon Design Information (CNWDI, pronounced "SIN-widee"). Such information bears the page marking TOP SECRET//RD-CNWDI and the paragraph marking (TS-N). The DOE security clearance process is overseen by the Department of Energy Office of Hearings and Appeals.
DOE clearances apply for access specifically relating to atomic or nuclear related materials ("Restricted Data" under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954). The clearance is issued predominantly to non-military personnel. In 1946 U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps Major William L. Uanna, in his capacity as the first Chief of the Central Personnel Clearance Office at the newly formed Atomic Energy Commission, named and established the criteria for the Q Clearance. The security clearance process at the DOE is adjudicated by the DOE Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) where an individual whose security clearance is at issue may seek to appeal a security clearance decision to an administrative judge and subsequently to an Appeal Panel.As of 1993, Q Clearances required a single-scope background investigation of the previous ten years of the applicant's life by both the Office of Personnel Management and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and as of 1998 cost $3,225.

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