You prided yourself on your eclectic group of friends in college. But now you’re submitting your application for a security clearance (SF86), and are a little worried about what the background investigator will think if he starts calling around to your circle of friends.
“It is an issue for the government at Tier 5, and those levels,” said Kimberley Berlin, a licensed clinical social worker and substance abuse counselor. “The company you keep matters. It’s a reflection of who you are and what your values are, or what your personal and private life is like. And, also, if you can be swayed by foreign sources, etc.”
Even if you live in a state such as Washington or Colorado, where recreational marijuana use is ‘legal,’ the government will judge you by the rules of federal law. And ongoing drug use is a major issue where the government is concerned.
“As hard as it is, if you have friends who are using drugs, one has to really take stock of which is more important – the career you are seeking with government for long term, and hopefully with continued success and promotion,” said Berlin. “Or an acquaintance/friendship that would literally destroy that career.”
You don’t necessarily have to completely end every friendship – but you do need to take stock. The best thing you can do, advises Berlin, is to have a conversation with any ongoing drug users within your close circle of friends or family. Don’t just assume the government won’t contact these individuals because they’re not listed on your SF86. For Top Secret clearance investigations, in particular, the investigation extends well beyond those listed on your forms.
“If you’re associating with known drug users, you really need to have a heart to heart with yourself…and then have an honest, loving conversation with your friends.
“They will say to their friends, I’m going for a really high level of security clearance, and we’ve been friends for years and I think the world of you, but I just can’t hang out with you if you’re still using,” said Berlin. “I can’t risk being in a room with you in case it gets in my hair, and I can’t having risk an investigator looking into this and blowing my chances of my future.”
Being honest isn’t just critical to your career – it may set your friends on a better path, as well.
“And who knows, maybe if they’re known drug users, maybe they’ll change the way they live their lives,” said Berlin. “You never know how that will pay forward.”