Filling Out Your SF-86? Sweat the small stuff

There are a number of seemingly minor omissions that commonly appear on an applicant’s SF-86. Standing alone, they will rarely have a profound impact on the efficiency of your investigation. However, an accumulation of such omissions when completing the SF-86 could, at a minimum, substantially lengthen the personal interview.

If nothing else, you probably want to minimize the time spent in your personal interview. You no doubt have work and life pulling at you every which way, while your investigator is no doubt tending to a robust caseload. Neither party wants to extend the interview to three hours because the SF-86 essentially needed a rewrite.

1. Other than shortened versions of a first name, list your AKA (“Other Names Used”).

This includes maiden names and commonly held nicknames. Most important, a thorough records check would be unattainable if each of the applicant’s names are not disclosed during the interview. Alternately, if an applicant’s peers or neighbors only know an applicant by his or her undisclosed AKA and an investigator approached such sources with only the applicant’s birth name, there exists a real possibility that a vital source may decline an interview on the mistaken belief that they do not know the applicant.

2. List all relatives as specified in the instructions.

Step-children; adopted children; and step-siblings with whom the applicant has little or no contact are sometimes mistakenly omitted from an SF-86. They should each be listed in the “Relatives” section.

3. Ensure that your resume is consistent with the SF-86.

Some agencies include the applicant’s resume alongside the SF-86. Ideally, the dates and employer names on each documents should be identical.

4. Double-check for spelling errors.

A misspelled verifier or employer is typically not insurmountable for the savvy investigator. Nevertheless, when an investigator relies on these misspellings while tracking down a source through a third party such as a receptionist or switchboard operator, an inquiry may be unsuccessful simply because the third party could not locate the source in some global directory.

5. avoid acronyms and ‘inside-baseball’ definitions.

Precision is often crucial. Experience and local knowledge varies among investigators. Accordingly, uncommon acronyms, short-hand versions of employer names, and generalized names for government agencies are sometimes inappropriate. While “FBI” is a universally known acronym, “GDIT” (General Dynamics Information Technology) is more exclusively known in the areas where it maintains its major offices.

For employees of government agencies or large government contractors, listing the appropriate sub-agency or division is particularly helpful. For instance, a Department of Justice employee who specifies that he or she worked for the Civil Division has peeled off an entire layer of investigation by adding just a few words to the SF-86.

6. Read each question carefully.

Not every question encompasses the same chronological scope. Some concern the last 10 years; some date back only seven years. Others may ask if you have ever engaged in an activity. Don’t run the risk of non-disclosure because you assumed every question concerned the same time frame. When in doubt, consult your security official before submitting your SF-86.


This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

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Andrew Levine is a former background investigator. Andrew worked on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management contract from March of 2007 through August of 2014, and conducted high-volume field work in Washington, D.C., area. During his career, Andrew trained incoming investigators and assisted in developing training curriculum for experienced investigators. A New York native, Andrew is currently pursuing a law degree at the University of the District of Columbia.