Clearance Process

Completing the Applications & Forms

Generally, you will be required to complete the same questionnaire for all security levels. Although different investigations are used for various levels of access, they all look at the same types of information that you will need to provide:

  • Your employment history
  • Education
  • References
  • Your military service record
  • Foreign activities and travel
  • Your financial history
  • Your police records (if any)
  • Drug and alcohol abuse (if any)

The amount of information you are required to provide will depend on the level of security clearance for which you have been nominated. For example, the investigation for a Top Secret Clearance covers the last seven to 10 years of your life. The investigation for a Secret Clearance only covers the last five years. If unfavorable information surfaces, a deeper investigation into your background may be warranted. The government-derived clearance forms ask questions that include both past and present information such as:

  • Have you ever used illicit drugs?
  • Have you ever filed for bankruptcy?
  • Have your ever renounced your citizenship?
  • Have you ever been arrested or received a fine for more than a minor violation?
  • Are you or have you ever been a member of a group or organization that has advocated the overthrow of the United States?
  • Are you or have you ever been affiliated with a foreign government?
  • Do you have ongoing close ties to foreign nationals?
  • Are you married to a foreign national?

A “Yes” answer to any of these questions will be followed up on by the clearance agency. While it could potentially be cause for disqualification, a “Yes” answer is certainly not automatically grounds for disapproval.

Honesty is the best policy when completing government applications and forms.

You must provide accurate, complete, and honest answers to all of the questions on your security questionnaire. Incomplete or inaccurate information can delay the process because this information is required for issuing your security clearance. False information is prohibited by law and punishable by fines and imprisonment. Remember, the information you provide will be verified during your investigation. Remember, when you sign your security forms, you are certifying completeness and accuracy under the penalty of prosecution.

Electronic Completion

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management supplies standard forms used government wide, including the Questionnaire for National Security Postions, commonly known as the SF86.

Generally, you will be able to fill out information through a web-based automated system called e-QIP, Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing. This e-QIP allows you to enter, update and transmit your personal information over a secure Internet connection to the requesting agency.

For more information on successfully filling out these forms, view the e-QIP instructions for completing the SF86 as well as other resources related to the e-QIP system.

What You Will Need

It is in the best interest of the government for you to successfully complete the SF86. It is a costly process for the government to research and diligently go through each application. Officials want you to pass. But many applicants are denied because of careless mistakes or omissions that raise red flags for the investigators.

Review the SF86 well before you begin to fill it out to determine exactly the kind of information you will need to provide. You must be accurate and thorough. Do not skip any question, even if it does not apply to you. In that case, your answer would N/A for not applicable. Be sure to fill out the supporting documentation such as the signature and authorization forms.

If you have any questions about what to put in your security questionnaire, see or call your security officer, and then answer the questions to the best of your ability. If you doubt whether to provide certain information, it is always best to provide the information (and any clarification, if necessary). Your omission of adverse information may be interpreted by adjudicators as falsification of your security forms. That could cost you your clearance. In some cases, how you have dealt with a problem or issue, such as a credit problem or substance abuse problem, may demonstrate good character and judgment, and may work favorably for you.

Before you sit down to fill out this form, you should collect all the documents needed to prove who you are and support the information about your life and your answers on the SF86:

  • Birth certificate
  • Driver’s license (copies from other states)
  • Social Security Card
  • Passport
  • Selective Service Number (available at
  • Naturalization Certificates of any foreign-born family members
  • Tax returns
  • Resumes
  • Employment records
  • Records of residences for the preceding 10 years
  • Record of Military Processing-Armed Forces of the United States (DD Form 1966)
  • Education records for the preceding 10 years
  • Records of foreign travel (locations, dates and foreign contacts)

SF86 Helpful Hints

There are several different categories of information you will have to fill out in the SF86. Below are some helpful hints so you don’t make common mistakes that may delay the process for you to obtain a security clearance.

Where Have You Lived

  • Be sure to include dorm rooms in college and the time you lived back home temporarily (even during summer breaks) or the places where you studied abroad
  • Include the names of people (other than relatives) who knew you at your addresses
  • Do not leave time period gaps
  • Include zip code of your residences. Use to look up zip codes if you are unsure

Where You Went to School

  • List all schools, colleges and diploma and/or degrees, including dates
  • Include semesters you skipped or summer school you attended

Employment Activities

  • Remember that time spent out of school during summer vacations should be recorded as unemployed
  • Time as a student should be recorded on the form as ‘9-Other’ and explain that you were a student, which explains why you were unemployed
  • For periods of unemployment, list someone who can verify your unemployment (possibly your parents)
  • List all full- and part-time jobs
  • If you were fired from a job, explain the circumstances
  • Do not leave time period gaps
  • Include contact information for past supervisors

People Who Know You Well

  • Pick three people who know you well and will say good things. They should know you for at least the last seven years
  • Contact the people you have used as references to let them know they may be contacted by investigators. This may ensure better, thought-out responses
  • Do not use people who are in other answers on the form
  • Avoid listing relatives
  • List current and former neighbors

Marital Status

  • The desire to forget about a former spouse is not acceptable for this application. All current and former spouses and co-habitants must be listed
  • Don’t forget to include maiden names and dates


  • Contact your family members to get all the needed information
  • Do not leave blanks
  • If a family member is deceased, include that information along with date and place of birth and country of citizenship
  • If married, divorced or separated, include the in-laws
  • If you run out of room, there is supplemental space to complete the information

Foreign Contacts

  • List those individuals that you, a spouse or cohabitant have had ‘close or continuing contact with’ in the last seven years. You do not have to list every person you met on a vacation
  • List any foreign contacts you talk to through email or on social networking sites, like Facebook, on a regular basis

Foreign Activities/Travel

  • Document every stop off along a trip, no matter how brief it was
  • List all ports of call in another country while on a cruise
  • Don’t forget to include if you crossed the border into Mexico or Canada

Mental & Emotional Health

  • Include any mental health diagnoses
  • Include court-ordered counseling, prescription psychiatric medications, as well as any treatment programs in which you are currently enrolled or have been enrolled in the past

Police Record

  • Read questions carefully – word for word – and answer honestly
  • Explain the offense and the action taken clearly
  • Forgetting to mention a crime is not acceptable

Illegal Use of Drugs or Activity

  • Read questions carefully – word for word – and answer honestly
  • Include all instances where you may have experimented with illegal drugs during the last seven years
  • Use of an illegal substance is not acceptable even if the substance is legal in other counties or individual states

Use of Alcohol

  • Drinking excessively on a regular basis will pose a reason for denial
  • If you had a history of excessive drinking or alcoholism in the past, share openly and show that you have moved beyond it

Financial Records

  • You need to know the status of your finances, including your credit
  • List all debts and include the action being taken on that debt
  • Include if your wages have been garnished

Use of Information Technology Systems

  • Answer honestly