ADVICE FROM THE GENERAL COUNSEL
Security Clearance Attorney Sean M. Bigley represents clients worldwide in security clearance denials and revocations. He is a former investigator for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. For more information, please visit www.bigleylaw.com.
The vast majority of federal background investigators are good people trying to do a tough job. Nonetheless, the stories I typically hear are about the few bad apples. And believe me: I’ve heard some real jaw-droppers.
One of the more common situations I hear about is what we’ll term the “loose lipped” investigator. Instead of asking your references questions like “how would you characterize the applicant’s mental stability?” or “have you known the applicant to use illegal drugs,” the investigator phrases them as facts: “Were you aware that the applicant received mental health counseling? Did you know that the applicant used to smoke marijuana?” The obvious result is that the investigator has now divulged private, potentially embarrassing details about the applicant’s past to people who may not otherwise have known. Its not supposed to work that way.
No matter which federal agency conducts your background investigation, the information you report on your SF-86 is not supposed to be shared with your references. That includes basic information like any position for which you are applying. Rather, the investigator is trained to act as a fact-gatherer. If you have specific issues in your background that warrant specific or unusual questions, your investigator should have enough savvy to press a line of questioning without making it obvious to your references that the questions aren’t just routine. For example, if you were once accused of domestic violence, the investigator should ask your references whether you have any violent tendencies – not whether you beat your significant other.
What to do if you’ve experienced unprofessional behavior
If you have been the victim of a loose-lipped or otherwise unprofessional investigator, you fortunately do have some recourse. Consider filing a complaint with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) at the below address. If your investigation was performed by another agency (e.g. FBI, DHS, etc.), contact that agency’s security office.
U.S. Office of Personnel Management
Federal Investigative Service
Attn: Investigator Complaints Unit
Box 618, 1137 Branchton Road
Boyers, PA 16018-0618
This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation.