The term “eQIP” – which stands for electronic Questionnaire for Security Processing – strikes fear and angst into even the most experienced security professional or clearance holder. eQIP is the electronic version of the Standard Forms 85, 85P and 86 (SF 85/86). These forms are used in approximately 99 percent of initiations for security investigation for civilian employment, military enlistment or contractor support positions with the US Government. Anyone who requires a government security clearance, suitability for employment determination, or Homeland Security Presidential Directive – 12 (HSPD-12) credentialing, must complete and submit an eQIP through their employing activity.
First, the need for the individual to have an investigation must be established. Normally, this is based on the security requirements set by the government agency sponsoring the work. Some situations require only that the individual undergo a favorable suitability investigation/determination (such as landscaping personnel), while some require a completed investigation and favorable security clearance adjudication. This varies from agency to agency, sometimes depending on the type of duties to be performed or the location of the work to be performed.
Good preparation is essential. As soon as it is determined that an individual is required to complete an eQIP, they are sent a blank SF 85/86 to begin collecting necessary information later transcribed into the eQIP. The eQIP system can be accessed from almost any computer, and gathering information in advance goes a long way in expediting the process. Most people do not know every address, telephone number, birth date and email address that the eQIP requests. If you are anything like me, you have an address book containing most of that information. I also highly recommend obtaining a credit report at annualcreditreport.com. The applicant will then be able to answer the questions regarding their credit situation accurately.
Next, the employing agency will authorize the individual access to the eQIP system; since it is a closed system, the agency must grant permission before applicants can access it. The agency determines the reason for the investigation and which version of the eQIP must be completed. When accessing eQIP the first time, the individual will be required to establish a user ID, password, and three security questions/answers. Subsequent attempts to access eQIP should be easier and, theoretically, your information will be available to update should you need a higher level of investigation. I say theoretically because the eQIP system is not 100 per cent accurate. Last year, my periodic reinvestigation (PR) was due, but when I accessed the eQIP, my information from 2007 was gone and I had to enter everything starting with my name, requiring about 5-6 hours of data input. My boss’ PR was due at approximately the same time and her information from 2007 was available, requiring only 1-2 hours to update.
Completing the eQIP can be labor intensive and may take several hours. You can always take a break and resume your work later, but remember, in many cases your employment start date is dependent upon your submission of the eQIP, completion of the required investigation and a favorable review of the investigative results. It is essential that each person read the question being asked and understand its meaning. If in doubt, the individual should seek assistance from his respective security officer. If you feel hesitant in discussing information with your security officer, you have the option to consult with an attorney or a security consultant at your own expense. Some eQIP questions ask “in the past seven years,” while others ask “have you ever.” Read the question thoroughly before you answer.
Each section of the eQIP has a validation feature that precludes you from jumping ahead to other sections. If you fail to fully answer a question, the system will not allow you to proceed. There are some circumstances in which you may not know the information or do not remember. It is perfectly reasonable to estimate dates and answer that you do not know/remember. Each section has a “comments” area where you can explain, for instance, that you do not know your father-in-law’s address because your spouse is estranged from his/her family and the information is not available. Unless your in-laws are from a country of interest to counter-intelligence personnel, this should not be a problem. If you do not remember your supervisor’s last name while you were employed at Walmart four years ago, it is reasonable to explain that in the Employment Section comments area.
Once you have completed all data entry, there is a final certification function that reviews the entire eQIP for missing information. At that point, you must print four signature pages that you will sign and date and submit to the agency that requested you to complete the eQIP. Then you can release the completed form to the requesting agency. The agency will review the completed eQIP before forwarding it on to the investigators. Very important to note: During the certification process, you will be prompted with an opportunity to print a copy of the eQIP for your personal reference. DO IT! As I stated previously, the eQIP system is not without error and if you are unlucky enough to have your eQIP information lost, a hard copy in your personal file makes recreation much easier.
Honesty is always the best policy. In cases involving employment suitability determinations, there is not always a personal interview to allow the individual to discuss variances between the answers provided on the eQIP and information developed during the investigation. For instance, if the individual answered “no” to all the questions regarding credit issues, but his credit report showed a history of delinquent debts or payments, there may not be an opportunity for the individual to clarify or correct the record. In most cases where a government security clearance is required, a personal interview will be conducted to give the individual the opportunity to provide additional information.
Although eQIP is often times feared and reviled, it is what it is. And it is THE system for initiating investigations for individuals seeking employment with the federal government, enlisting in the U.S. military, and employment as a federal contractor. Accepting things as they are is sometimes difficult for human beings. However, flexibility is a tremendous attribute for a person to have. So, my advice is to go with the flow, get hired and show what good work you can do. Perhaps someday you will be in a position to affect changes to a system and you can help make that system “user friendly” in fact, rather than in theory. Good luck.