Joining the Biden Administration? Read This If You’ve Already Submitted a SF-86

The five things you need to do after submitting your Security Clearance Application.

Have you been approached about joining the new Administration? Interested in approaching them? Then you probably know that you will have to be vetted (really vetted) and then obtain a Security Clearance.  In an earlier article on Security Clearance Applications (SCAs), I wrote about five major considerations to keep in mind while completing the Standard Form 86 (SF-86 or e-QIP)—the 136-page document that starts the United States Government’s background investigation (BI), which determines whether you can be trusted to access classified information.

What happens after you submit the form?

For most applicants, the next step will be a personal interview with an assigned federal investigator or contractor, who will typically be someone with law enforcement experience. These interviews can last several hours, depending on the complexity of the issues you reported on the SF-86, and can even extend beyond the scope of the timeframes identified in the SF-86. Moreover, the investigator will probe into general issues as well—e.g., are there any concerns about your loyalty to the United States? Are you vulnerable to blackmail, and by whom (or by what foreign powers)? Do you possess good judgment?

Given the complexity and importance of the process, it is beneficial to be prepared for the personal interview. Adhere to the five recommendations below to minimize delays and maximize your chances for an uneventful entry into the cleared community.

Print a copy of your SF-86. In addition to the usual documents that the investigator will ask you to have available—such as photo identification, passport, or birth certificate—you should also ensure that you have a copy of your own SF-86. The investigator will certainly discuss the entire application with you and ask clarifying questions; however, she or he may have brought only a single copy of the SF-86 to the interview. Rather than attempt to recall your exact answer in a stressful environment (or awkwardly attempt to share the SF-86 with the investigator), you should have your own copy so you can focus your entire attention on responding fully and truthfully to the investigator’s questions.

Compile and Organize Relevant Documents. Most applicants will have disclosed a range of information on their SF-86. Depending on what you reported, it is prudent to collect relevant documents about the disclosures (and your explanations) and have them available for the investigator during the interview. They may not always review them in your presence, but you will have shown initiative and provided mitigating information at your earliest opportunity.

For example, if you already know that the government’s credit check will result in an inaccurate impression of your financial health, you should make sure you have, in an organized fashion, the financial records that will counter the credit report. If you have arrest records, you should make sure you have all associated official documents, as well as any documents reflecting mitigation.

Correct Mistakes. Despite your best efforts, it is normal to have typos or other errors in the submitted SF-86. Prior to the interview, review your SF-86 application with fresh eyes and take note if you find any unintentional omissions or statements. You should call them to the investigator’s attention and correct those errors before you are confronted with them. Similarly, if you notice that you did not adequately explain certain incidents, take advantage of the personal interview as an opportunity to make sure the investigator is aware of all the relevant facts.

Be Confident! You have carefully refreshed your memory regarding your past, so you should be confident in the accuracy of your answers. During the interview, do not lose that confidence because of what you think the investigator wants you to say. For example, even if you can’t recall the exact number of times you’ve used cocaine in the past, think carefully about it and arrive at an educated estimate. Even if the investigator suggests or even pressures you to change that number by asking you whether it is possible that you have used more than your educated estimate, you must resist. While anything may be possible, the more likely—and more importantly, truthful—number is the one that you have actually put thought into, rather than any on-the-spot speculation.

Follow Up. Just because the personal interview is over does not mean you are precluded from providing additional corrections or clarifications to the investigator, especially if 1) you are concerned that the investigator may have misheard or misunderstood any of your explanations; 2) you realize that you omitted important details while discussing a particular incident; or 3) while you could not recall the information during the interview, you have since refreshed your memory. While you do not want to inundate the investigator—after all, that would show poor judgment—you do want to make sure that you have provided all the material facts to the investigator so that they can be considered and included in the final report.

If you need assistance with the personal interview, the attorneys at Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch, P.C. are available to help.