Filling out your SF86 in an accurate manner is the best thing you can do to expedite your clearance- here are some tips.
Tips for filling out the sf86
Sections 1 - 6 (Identifying Information)
Any mistakes or omissions in this section could delay your investigation for months. The most common and lengthy delays come from the subject of investigation not providing all names used throughout their life. Your investigating agency will begin your investigation by submitting the information you provide in this section to a variety of government entities for records and database searches. If it is discovered late in your investigation that you are or have been previously known by another name then that whole process starts over, delaying your clearance.
You must list all nicknames and shortened versions of your name, even for a Robert known as "Bob." If anyone in your life has ever called you by a nickname of any type you should list it in this section. Your investigator finding out that you were known as "Skip" in college will require all of those database checks to be conducted again.
Female applicants must list their maiden names and all variations of its use. For example, if you were born Nancy Jane Hicks and married into the Gribble family, you may be known as Nancy Jane Gribble to your neighbors but use Nancy Hicks Gribble at work. All three of these names would need to be listed.
Section 7 (Contact Information)
This section is pretty self explanatory. Your investigator will more than likely try to reach you first during business hours at your work number and then move on to your mobile and home. Nothing should be left blank. If you do not have a work email address, for example, enter "None."
Sections 8 - 10 (Passport and Citizenship)
If your passport has expired, you still check "yes" on e-QIP, even if you do not recall the passport number or expiration date. For the issue and expiration dates, make your best guess and check "Estimated." For the passport number enter "not recalled."
If you were not born in the United States, it is extremely important that you have a copy of your documentation proving U.S. citizen by birth abroad or your naturalization certificate. No agency can grant a security clearance to a person who cannot prove they are a U.S. citizen. Be sure to enter the document number exactly as it appears on the citizenship documentation.
Section 11 (Where you have lived)
This is where you have a chance to be nice to your investigator in addition to speeding things along. While being an investigator is a great job, none of us like going out to knock on random doors, so be a sport and make it easy on us. All residences over the last ten years need to be listed. This includes college dorms, short terms rentals, Summers with your aunt, etc. The SF-86 instructions state that you are not required to list addresses under 90 days; note that this applies only to short term residences that were not your permanent address. If you had no other place to live at that time you need to list these short term residences.
For residences in the last three years you need to list a person who knew you at that address. It speeds things along if you list a person with an actual connection to your residence at that location such as a direct neighbor or landlord. If you list a friend or co-worker who never visited you at the address we will not be able to use that person to speak to your time in that residence, thereby slowing down your investigation while we search for real neighbors. It is perfectly fine if you do not know your neighbors well, your investigator will be happy with someone who knows your first name and sees you in passing a few times a month. We're not picky when it comes to neighborhoods and want to get home to our families for dinner.
If any of your residences are hard to find, putting a comment in e-QIP with driving instructions is a very good idea. If your neighborhood is in a gated community with access controls please place that in comments as well.
Lastly, if any of your residences in the last three years were overseas, please provide provide contact information of someone who knew you there and is currently in the United States.
Section 12 (Education)
This section is intended to gather information for degree or diploma seeking education only. There is no need to list professional development classes or certificate programs. Even if you do not have any schools to list in the last ten years, you are required to list all degrees and diplomas all the way back to high school. Your investigation will verify your highest degree and having that information as early as possible will get you on your way to your clearance faster.
For education in the last three years, you are required to list a person who knew you. If you attended class on campus you should try to provide a person who is still on campus such as your adviser, a department secretary or a professor. Your investigator is going to need to talk with people going back three years from today so keep that in mind when you are providing a point of contact.
If you attended classes online, check the "Correspondence/Distance Learning" box on e-QIP. If you don't check this box then an investigator will waste time going to the school in person trying to find people who knew you. If you never met any of the staff or professors at the online school, provide the name of someone who can speak to your time studying during that program. Someone from whom you sought academic advice or a co-worker with whom you frequently discussed your online program would be fine.
Section 13 (Employment)
Your previous employments will most likely be the primary focus of your background investigation. People spend more time with co-workers than with anyone else in their lives so co-workers are excellent sources of information. They can comment on our main areas of concern such as reliability, willingness to follow rules, work ethic, etc., and should also be able to comment on your background and personal life. Because your workplaces are critical to your clearance process, it is important that you correctly complete this section of the e-QIP.
When providing the name and contact information for your supervisor there are a few things to consider. Your background investigator is going to want to talk to your immediate, first level supervisor with whom you have contact on a daily basis. If you are a government contractor assigned to a government facility, list your on-site supervisor even if that person is not with your same company. Do not list your off-site corporate point of contact if you do not have close professional contact with them.
When instructed on e-QIP to provide the address of each employer, list the location of your company headquarters where your employment record is likely to be. This is not as important for federal employees and military service members as your employment files are centralized. If you do not work at the company's headquarters be sure to check "yes," your physical work location is different from your employer and provide your actual work location. If your investigators do not have your physical location from the beginning it will delay your investigation.
If you are or were in the military, you need to list each duty station and deployment in the last ten years along with supervisors for each duty station. Do not list your entire military time under your current duty station. Separate assignments within the same duty station (back to back Pentagon assignments, for example) need to be listed individually.
Be honest about your reason for leaving a job as well as in response to the questions regarding workplace warnings and reprimands.
If there are periods of unemployment over the last ten years provide the name and contact information of someone who can speak to your reason for unemployment, your activities during that period and your source of financial funding during your period of unemployment. It is best if this person is not a family member.
Lastly, double check all zip codes before moving on to the next section. Most investigating agencies schedule investigations based on zip codes.
Sections 14 - 15 (Selective Service and Military)
If you do not know your selective service number, go to www.sss.gov
You must list all military branches separately. If you were active duty Army and joined the Army National Guard after your Army discharge then you will need two entries in this section. If you were prior enlisted and got your commission you will need two entries, even if the service was in the same branch. If you changed states with National Guard service you need an entry for each state. If you changed from Army National Guard to Air National Guard you will need two entries. If you had a period of Inactive Reserve after active duty service this needs to be listed separately. Correctly listing all periods of your service helps us find your records in a timely manner in order to close your investigation.
Section 16 (People Who Know You Well)
Listing the wrong people in this section WILL delay your investigation. The three people listed in this section should have had social contact with you within the last seven years. We are not looking for old friends who may know you well but you never see. The background investigation process allows for people who are homebodies or simply don't have much time to socialize. Investigators are able to interpret "social" fairly widely, but we do need people with whom you have in-person contact. If you don't have a close group of friends or belong to a social organization, then people such as fellow church members, other parents from your child's soccer league, a neighbor with whom you have dinner or drinks or someone from a volunteer organization would be just fine. If you play sports with co-workers they would be ideal to list. Again, listing people with whom you do not socialize will slow things down.
Sections 17 - 18 (Relatives)
You have to list all ex-spouses, even the one from that practice marriage after high school.
For the purposes of your investigation, a cohabitant is a person with whom you live in a spouse like relationship. Do not list platonic roommates, only persons with whom you share a residence and a romance.
Failing to list required relatives will not typically delay your investigation, however the omission of foreign born relatives will slow down your case as checks need to be run on foreign family members. Do your best to obtain and provide document numbers from relatives born outside of the United States as well as relatives who are not citizens of the United States. For foreign national relatives you will be required to provide the name and address of their most recent employer, even if they are currently unemployed or retired. Family members who are dual citizens of the United States and another country should be treated as a foreign nationals on e-QIP.
Section 19 - 20 (Foreign Contacts and Activities)
Foreign influence is one of the top reasons security clearances are denied. If you have any foreign contacts this is a tricky section of the SF-86. Be very careful to accurately portray your contacts, dealings and travel in this section. You are asked to provide information regarding foreign nationals to whom you, your spouse or your cohabitant are "bound by affection, influence, common interests, and/or obligation." Uncle Sam has yet to define what that means and relies greatly on your judgment regarding your relationships with foreign nationals. If a person has some influence over or if you have an obligation to them then they should be listed. I can provide more specific and tailored advice during a consultation, but for these purposes let's take it to the extremes; The Canadian deli clerk you chat with occasionally does not need to be listed. The Chinese man with whom you just founded an IT consulting firm would certainly need to be listed. Use your best judgment and err on the side listing too many people; you do not want to give the impression that you were trying to hide a foreign contact
For the foreign financial interests questions, note that they refer to "ever" having foreign financial dealings. Most other questions in this section request information from the last seven years.
If your foreign travel was on official government business you must still answer "yes" to foreign travel and then "yes" again to the travel being solely for government business. If you took any personal side trips on that official travel then you must answer "no" to the travel being solely for government business. For example, if you were sent to Germany on official business but crossed into France for tourism then the France trip would need to be listed.
Section 21 (Mental Health)
Read this question carefully. Treatment or counseling for family issues, grief, emotional concerns after sexual assault and emotional problems due to service in a combat environment do not need to be listed. You should, of course, be honest, but health care providers are difficult to schedule and waiting on them to reply to your investigator may delay your clearance. Only list the providers that need to be listed. If you have had counseling in the last seven years, contact the care provider to make sure that they will accept the standard SF-86 Medical Release. If the provider has their own form, obtain a copy from the provider and bring that with you to your security interview.
Section 22 (Police Record)
Note that while most questions in this section ask about the last seven years only, the questions regarding felonies, drug and alcohol offenses, firearms, explosives and domestic violence refer to your entire life. If you had an open container citation in college twenty years ago this needs to be listed. Also note that the "ever" questions ask about charges, not just convictions. This means if you were arrested for DUI but the charge was reduced to Reckless Driving, this DUI charge still needs to be listed. The only exception to this is domestic violence, for which only convictions need to be listed. Don't leave off any criminal charges that need to be listed. If your SF-86 matches the criminal records obtained by your investigating agency then your background investigation is likely to finish quickly, assuming that the police record is your only issue. If the information you provide in e-QIP does not match the official criminal justice records your investigation will take longer.
Section 23 - 24 (Drugs & Alcohol)
These questions are straight forward and surprisingly well constructed. Just be honest and list all dates and substances to the best of your recollection. There is no need to list illegal drug usage beyond seven years and remember, as far as Uncle Sam is concerned marijuana is an illegal drug regardless of your state's laws.
Section 25 (Clearance Record)
All previous federal background investigations for security purposes need to be listed. Your background investigators will need to review prior investigations and we need to know when those happened and which agency conducted them.
Section 26 (Financial Record)
Financial issues are the number one reason security clearances are denied. Security clearance adjudicators understand that people make mistakes and that people have unexpected expenses in life. The financial accounts on your e-QIP need to exactly match the information found on your credit report, so get a copy of your credit report right before you complete your SF-86. This can be done for free once per year at www.AnnualCreditReport.com. If your account numbers and balances do not match the credit report obtained by your investigating agency then your background investigator will have to contact you to obtain a specific release for each account in dispute and contact each creditor. This takes time and will delay your investigation.
Section 27 (Information Technology Systems)
This is another tricky section where your judgment and honesty dictate the level of severity that needs to be reported. These questions apply to hacking, denial of service and misuse of your employer's IT systems. They are not intended to make you disclose a few illegal song downloads or the time you guessed your spouse's Facebook password. Lack of respect for IT security procedures has allowed for serious security breaches within the US Government over the last few years and is a major concern for security officers. Any relevant action within the last seven years needs to be disclosed..
Section 28 (Civil Actions)
Only answer in the affirmative to this question if you have been a plaintiff or a defendant in a court filing in the last ten years. You should not list participation in class action suits or participation as a witness in a trial.
Section 29 (Association Record)
These are fairly self explanatory and hopefully you will be able to answer "no" to all of them. You've just finished your application. Congratulations and good luck!
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