An all too common trend among background investigation applicants is the tendency to list duplicate verifiers across multiple activities. This seemingly innocuous act, convenient as it may be, is often a disservice to the applicant.

While the typical background investigation will never unearth all the complexities of each individual applicant, the goal is for each investigation to paint a broad picture of the applicant for adjudicative purposes. In short, an investigation with a solitary voice undercuts the essence of the security clearance process.

There are presumptively two reasons why applicants fail to vary the names on the SF-86: 1) the applicant does know the contact information for an activity verifier or 2) the applicant is attempting to control his own investigation. Let’s look at each reason separately.


The background investigation process asks a lot from applicants. Whether an applicant lives in a transient area and does not know his or her neighbors, or the applicant worked at a short-lived employment several years ago, there are obstacles to listing someone who can directly verify an activity. The default tactic by many applicants is to simply list a friend who was aware of an activity or who had some peripheral association with an activity (for example, visiting the applicant’s residence).

This is where it may behoove the applicant to conduct a bit of leg work before submitting his or her SF-86. Reach out to past employers and verify the contact information for former supervisors. If you live in an apartment complex and don’t know your neighbors, get creative: ascertain the contact information for your doorman, concierge, property manager, etc.

A small corollary to the above point: it is good practice to avoid listing relatives as verifiers. The rationale behind this rule of thumb is fairly obvious, as relatives tend to lack the objectivity sought from activity verifiers. Of course, this is not a bright-line rule. For example, where the applicant lives with a parent or works in a family business, a relative may simply be the best verifier for a given activity.


An attempt by an applicant to control his or own investigation is at best, self-defeating; at worst, a red flag that the applicant is shielding some suitability issue from the investigation. The reality is that the diligent investigator will develop additional sources over the course of the investigation whether or not the applicant is complicit in the process.

So if you listed the same verifier for every residence in the last 10 years, and that same person is listed as a character reference, be sure that your investigator will attempt to extract additional names from you during your personal interview. And if you’re unable to provide any, the investigator is certain to discover those names in the field. At a minimum, withholding names will likely lengthen the duration of the investigation.

Worse yet is the case where the applicant purposely withheld the name of a verifier who had direct knowledge of a suitability issue at a given activity, and who was also the best source for a given activity. If an investigator is reasonably calculated to locate this verifier anyway, the applicant has now raised the question as to why this person was never mentioned on the SF-86 or during the applicant interview. The lesson: when in doubt, full disclosure is always the best practice.


It’s important to note that there are exceptions to the general rule that an applicant should not provide duplicate activity verifiers. It is typically acceptable to list the same verifier for multiple periods of unemployment (assuming the person listed is the best person to verify your activities for each period). Likewise, it would be reasonable for a person who lives at the same residence on multiple occasions to list the same verifier more than once (again, assuming the verifier is the best source).

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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.