Depending on where you have to survive, street smarts means different things. Mr. Dennard's ouster from heavy rotation on the airwaves shows what a deficit in this area can cost you. What seems to have happened, is that Mr. Dennard mistook the way 45 views and wants to use security clearances with the way that they are actually used in practice. He took that and ran into the unyielding wall of reality with it. Unfortunate for him.
Here are the facts.
The US government grants security clearances to all uniformed military service members. As well, on an as needed basis, it grants security clearances to various types of civilian government employees, and individual working for firms that have contracts with the US government. The process involves the person seeking the clearance filling out forms answering questions regarding their where-abouts, finances, ties and associations. One or more investigative agencies determines the veracity of the answers and the clearance is denied or granted based on how much of a potential risk to coercion the applicant is deemed to present.
There are many types of information that the government wishes to protect from other governments and other entities. Security clearances are issued for individuals, but are actually held by government agencies or companies which they have vetted as trusted agents. There are increasing levels for the types of information and the clearance required to access it. Access is granted based on an individual having BOTH the correct level of clearance AND a clearly delineated need to know. All protected data is not the same. There are several levels of protected data. The types of data are held in separate enclaves or repositories. That’s going to be separate file cabinets if its paper, and separate computer networks if its data. A Secret clearance, for example, doesn’t automatically grant you access to any and all Secret information. This clearance also doesn’t grant you access to lower classification info for which you do not have a need to know.
Getting a security clearance requires some type of background investigation. This can take three months to a year. Once a clearance is granted, it remains active for up to two years after separation from the agency that last held the clearance for you. If you change association from one entity to another, the clearance follows you, or rests in an agency/system called JPAS. You get a clearance because you have a skill set, training, or knowledge that benefits execution of a government agency’s mission. The clearance gives you access to closely held information that you, far more so than other people, can use most effectively to advance the government agency’s mission, because of your experience, specialized skillset and knowledge.
If you have a security clearance, the government agency that gave you the clearance, did so because you were already a subject matter expert in your field. With or without the clearance you would still have the training, skill set, knowledge, and experience that makes you an asset to them and any of the firms in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia area) and around the country servicing the government agencies. If a company or agency needs you to do the work, they can get you a clearance or make other arrangements. The time it takes depends on the backlog at that point in time. If you know the problem area very well, you can often work issues without access to classified documents, data, or computer systems.
Another interesting fact: the government doesn't pay top dollar. Many people with security clearances actually earn less working for the government than they would in private industry. This is why many governmant agencies have a problem hiring and keep positions filled.