One of the most crucial aspects of any clearance investigation is the SF-86 form that all applicants are required to fill out. It is an imposing, 127-page document that covers everything from past living addresses to foreign contacts. Because of the central role it plays in clearance adjudications, the SF-86 is not a form that should be taken lightly. The document itself has become a topic of media discussion after it was revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not disclose contacts with the Russian Ambassador on his SF-86. The discussion of the issue was short lived, however, as it was later revealed that Sessions’ staff had contacted the Department of Justice. Reportedly, Department of Justice attorneys instructed that he omit the contacts.
We at Compass Rose Legal Group believe that the affairs surrounding the Attorney General’s SF-86 serve as a valuable example of how to, and how not to, approach the SF-86. While the average clearance applicant will not face the same issues or media scrutiny as Jeff Sessions, his case provides a cautionary tale for all applicants. Accordingly, consider the following:
- Fill out your own SF-86 form. Once you sign and submit the form, you become responsible for its contents. This is not dissimilar from a tax form or contract. While it might be tempting to let a staff member or secretary handle the SF-86 for you, the level of detail required requires personal attention.
- Pay close attention to the wording of all questions: certain information is not required to be reported, and the questions note this. When in doubt, seek counsel. Similarly, for all applicants the SF-86 contains a section on mental health counseling. Depending on the section, an applicant may or may not be required to provide that information. Read this section carefully.
- Take time to fill out the form completely, accurately, and then re-examine it thoroughly before submission. Omissions, particularly if purposeful, can be a crime. Even if the omissions do not result in a criminal referral, missing information results in a weighty issue that security adjudicators can latch on to and question.
- When in doubt, seek counsel.
This article was prepared by Thomas Toman, National Security Investigations Intern.