Applying for a Security Clearance in 2018

Before an applicant is granted eligibility to hold a security clearance, he-or-she must undergo an extensive background investigation. Generally, this process begins when the applicant is given a conditional offer of employment for a position requiring a security clearance. At that time, the applicant will be required to submit a Standard Form 86 (SF-86) or its electronic counterpart, the Electronic Questionnaire for Security Processing (EQIP). All individuals applying for a security clearance, or undergoing a periodic investigation, must undergo a thorough background investigation as part of the security clearance application process.

At first glance, the SF-86/EQIP can be overwhelming – it is a complex questionnaire and requires the applicant to spend a significant amount of time gathering and disclosing information about his-or-her personal life, background, and relationships. Specifically, the applicant must disclose information including, but not limited to, his or her:

  • Citizenship and Residence
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Family, Friends, and other Contacts/References
  • Foreign Travel, Foreign Contacts, and Foreign Connections
  • Drug Involvement
  • Alcohol Consumption
  • Psychological Conditions
  • Criminal Conduct
  • Financial History
  • History of Handling Protected Information
  • Use of Information Technology Systems

It is imperative that the applicant provides complete and accurate responses on the SF-86/EQIP, even if the applicant is concerned that his-or-her response may not be viewed as favorable. Providing inaccurate or incomplete information can jeopardize the applicant’s chance of obtaining a clearance, even if the omission was unintentional or based on a misunderstanding! In fact, providing false information is one of the most common reasons that security clearances are revoked or denied.

It is less risky for an applicant to disclose potentially damaging information and explain how he-or-she has rehabilitated himself or herself than to withhold the information and be questioned about his-or-her honesty later in the process. If an applicant is unsure about an answer to an inquiry, he-or-she must make all reasonable efforts to determine the correct answer. Not knowing or remembering certain information is not an adequate excuse for failing to provide an accurate response on the SF-86/EQIP.

If an applicant finds himself or herself unsure about a question on the EQIP, he-or-she should contact his-or-her Security Officer immediately. Approaching the Security Officer and seeking clarification indicates a willingness to express the truth and will often result in total clarification.

Once the applicant has gathered all the relevant information and submitted his-or-her SF-86/EQIP, he-or-she will participate in a Personal Subject Interview. During the Personal Subject Interview, the applicant should expect to be asked about the information he-or-she provided in his-or-her security clearance application. Moreover, it is possible that the investigator will contact the applicant’s neighbors, co-workers, classmates, and/or references provided in the security clearance application prior to the interview.

Like the SF-86/EQIP, the Personal Subject Interview is a critical part of the background investigation process and the applicant must be candid and accurate throughout the interview. His-or-her responses must be truthful and consistent with information provided in the SF-86/EQIP and by the applicant’s references. The Personal Subject Interview is the applicant’s opportunity to further explain the information on the SF-86/EQIP and to mitigate any concerns that the investigator may identify. Again, honesty and consistency are key during this part of the process.

After the SF-86/EQIP is submitted, references are checked, and the Personal Subject Interview is complete, the entire application will be reviewed as a whole by the adjudications officials at the agency through which the applicant is seeking the clearance through. Over 80% of clearances are granted through the Department of Defense; however, the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Energy, Department of Justice, and the Central Intelligence Agency also issue security clearances.

After the entire application is reviewed, the agency will inform the applicant whether he-or-she is eligible to hold a clearance. Should the applicant receive an unfavorable decision based on his-or-her initial application, he-or-she will receive a “Statement of Reasons” setting forth the specific reasons why his-or-her request for eligibility was denied. The applicant will have a brief period, generally 20 days, to prepare a response rebutting the concerns in the Statement of Reasons.

Preparing a security clearance application is a technical and complex process. An experienced security clearance attorney can assist the applicant in preparing a complete and comprehensive application. Here at Avery Dooley & Noone, LLP, we assist and represent clients in preparing security clearance applications, preparing for security clearance investigations, and challenging security clearance denials and revocations.

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