Filling Out the Personnel Security Questionnaire


The Fifth Edition of Security Clearance Law and Procedure written by Elaine L. Fitch and Mary E. Kuntz offers representatives, attorneys, and union representatives a comprehensive and authoritative analysis of security clearance law.

Available from Dewey Publications

Questions About Filling Out the Personnel Security Questionnaire?


When you apply for any type of security clearance, the government will begin a thorough background investigation into your personal history. Typically, the investigation is limited to the last 10 years of your life. The purpose of the investigation is to determine how suitable you may be as an employee and whether you should be allowed to view classified information.


The first step in getting a security clearance involves filling out the Personnel Security Questionnaire. This may be done with a printed form, called the Standard Form (“SF”) 86. Or, more likely, it will involve answering questions online, using the Electronic Questionnaire for Investigations Processing, or e-QIP (pronounced “Equip”). The level of clearance granted will be Confidential, Secret or Top Secret.


A person who obtains a Top Secret clearance may also be eligible to have access to Special Access Programs (“SAP”) involving Sensitive Compartmented Information (“SCI”). This access does not require completing an additional form and is based on the person’s “need to know.”


The Questionnaire requires you to provide information about:


  • Where you have lived over the past 10 years
  • Employment history
  • Personal and family history
  • Criminal history
  • Credit history
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Mental health history and treatment received
  • Foreign travel and contacts

It is critical to answer these questions accurately. You cannot “fudge” on answers to these questions in the hope that you can clarify later. Responding incorrectly on the security form will result in a charge of “falsification,” which can be more damaging than if the individual had answered honestly in the first place. For example, a candidate may fear disclosing that he has been to a psychologist, in the mistaken belief that this will disqualify him from getting a clearance. In truth, this alone is not a disqualifier, but answering falsely on the form will likely result in the denial of the clearance.


Another form, the SF-85 or 85P is used for Public Trust positions that do not require access to classified information. These are positions that involve access to government databases, Social Security numbers, financial information, and/or other information not available to the general public. Nevertheless, it involves responding to most of the same questions that are posed on the e-QIP.


Need Help Today?


If you are concerned that answers on the security form may be damaging to your eligibility for a clearance, seek the advice of an experienced attorney before you complete the form. At Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch, P.C., we are ready to assist you. Call (202) 331-9260 or visit our Contact page.