It isn’t every day that you hear the SF-86 mentioned in mainstream media outlets.
News of Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. meeting with a Russian attorney prior to the presidential election went public recently, and it’s all because of Kushner’s SF-86 – the questionnaire applicants must complete when applying for security clearance.
Kushner originally failed to disclose any meetings with foreigners on his SF-86 when he filed it in January. He amended it in May to include more than 100 foreign names, according to Vox. However, that revision still failed to include the meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, which has dominated network news channels lately.
The meeting involving Veselnitskaya was revealed in a third SF-86 revision before July, according to CBS.
Did You Forget Something on Your SF-86?
So what do you do if you forget to include something on your SF-86? When you have omitted critical information on the questionnaire, you have a couple of options, says security clearance lawyer Catie Young.
You can write an email to your security manager or contact your investigator to notify them of the missing information. An article posted on SecurityClearanceJobs.com recommends that if you contact your investigator, ask to meet in person for the conversation “so you can confirm with your own eyes that the updated information made it into his or her report.”
You also can correct mistakes on your SF-86 and provide additional information during your scheduled interview with an investigator, which is part of the clearance process. Be sure to clarify whether the information left off your SF-86 was due to oversight, as opposed to willfully choosing to keep the information from investigators.
Often, the omitted information is unintentional and due to misunderstanding or misinterpreting a question.
However, there are those cases, such as previous employment in the adult film industry, past drug use, or undisclosed foreign involvements like Jared Kushner, where you may have misgivings about telling the truth when prompted. It’s only when the form is submitted, and you’ve lied to the investigator that guilt starts to creep in. Furthermore, by lying to investigators, you could be prosecuted and face fines.
The best case in this scenario is to act quickly. There may still be time to mitigate your SF-86 omission.
“If you intentionally lied or omitted information on your SF-86, you should consider consulting an attorney who specializes in this area of law to provide assistance in correcting or disclosing the correct information,” Young says.
You don’t want to go to prison and/or be fined for making false statements, and that can happen if the statements you gave “materially impacted the course of the background investigation (i.e. had the agency known the truth, they would have altered their investigation and/or their adjudicative decision),” according to Security Clearance Jobs.
The SF-86 isn’t a tool designed to entrap someone in a falsehood, Asha Rangappa wrote recently in The Washington Post. “It’s a starting point for the FBI to determine the kind of person you are — and whether you are someone who can be trusted to guard sensitive information, uphold the law and protect the United States.”
To determine if you are worthy of need-to-know information, the SF-86 asks for information that lets investigators look deeply into your character and frame of mind. When filling the form out, you will find yourself divulging information about your associates both past and present, your reputation in the community, loyalty to the country, and abilities to keep the information confidential. Investigators also want to know about any biases you hold, as well as any current or former drug and alcohol abuse.
The government approved 638,679 clearances in 2015, the most recent year in which information was available, according to The Washington Post. But at some agencies, as many as 8.5 percent of applications were denied. The government reported that “foreign influence” was the most common reason for delaying security clearances, followed by “financial considerations.”
The SF-86 is serious business. It is important to complete it as accurately as possible and in its entirety. Most of all, be honest. Investigators want to know that you are worthy of security clearance, that you are of sound character, and that you are not at risk for blackmail and other security clearance concerns.
When in doubt about completing the form, or in cases where you’ve intentionally or accidentally omitted information, consult an attorney who specializes in security clearance law.