If you’ve worked with a security clearance for any measurable period of time, chances are good that you’ll recall the 2014 USIS debacle. In essence, USIS – a major Office of Personnel Management (OPM) investigative service provider – was accused of releasing shoddy security clearance background investigations to the government in a bid to increase profits. Cases were rushed, leads not investigated, and quality control was effectively non-existent.

The result of USIS’s mistakes was a federal False Claims Act case and, ultimately, the company’s implosion. Given the dramatic downfall of such a large organization, one would assume that a major cultural shift would have occurred inside OPM’s Federal Investigative Service (now “NBIB”) and its remaining investigative service providers: quality over quantity.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. Years later, OPM still persists in focusing on pointless minutia and meeting artificial deadlines over actual investigative competency. Nowhere is this more apparent than their own Reports of Investigation (ROI’s) – the final investigative product used by adjudicators to determine an applicant’s eligibility for access to classified information or to occupy a sensitive national security position. I just finished reading an ROI that spent an entire paragraph discussing the fact that the applicant did not list a home telephone number on his SF-86 because he didn’t have one and was unaware that he should have listed his cell phone number twice. That’s a national security issue, if I ever heard one.

Instead of actually investigating potential security issues, investigators spend the majority of their time focused on checking the countless bureaucratic boxes mandated by OPM. The problem is significantly exacerbated by the fact that OPM continues to pay its contractors on a per-item or per-case basis, and docks them pay for missing arbitrary deadlines. From an applicant’s perspective, that often means superficial investigative interviews conducted at a frenetic pace.

Security clearance applicants who find themselves in this position are advised to assert themselves with the investigator as soon as the rushed nature of the investigation becomes apparent. Stop the interview, articulate your concern about getting facts and details right, and slow things down. The reason for this is that we are increasingly encountering ROI’s in which either (a) the applicant is alleged to have made a damaging statement that s/he later adamantly denies, or (b) mitigating information is omitted that could have helped avert a security clearance denial or revocation.

As I always tell my clients, an applicant must be his or her own best advocate in these cases. Unless there are concerns about self-incrimination (in which case you probably shouldn’t be applying for the clearance in the first place), security clearance background investigations are not situations in which remaining silent is to your benefit. Rather, answer the investigator’s questions but also volunteer mitigating information where relevant. Make sure that information gets into the investigator’s report and, if you are concerned about accuracy, you may actually consider asking to review the investigator’s notes before departing the interview.

The bottom line is that it is better to spend a bit more time during the investigative interview (potentially annoying your investigator) to ensure that facts are being accurately and completely reported, and mitigating information is being included where applicable. Not only will this increase your chances of a favorable adjudication, it will decrease your chances of later being forced to challenge damaging statements or admissions that you never actually made.


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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Attorney Sean M. Bigley represents clients worldwide in security clearance denials, revocations, and the security clearance application process. He is a former investigator for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (then-U.S. Office of Personnel Management). For more information, please visit www.bigleylaw.com. Readers will also find a low-cost, self-help option for obtaining copies of their security clearance background investigations and DISS/Scattered Castles records at www.bigleylaw.com/security-clearance-investigation-records.