Here’s your weekly DOHA dose – a shot of security clearance appeal cases and their outcome. The Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals releases the results of their security clearance appeals cases. They’re one of the best insights into which clearance cases are granted or denied in the Department of Defense.
True or False: Errors on the SF-86 will be judged based on the applicant’s intention to mislead
During a recent deep dive into the DOHA site, I found what had to be one of my favorite references listed in a security clearance denial appeals case. The applicant had failed to list some delinquent financial obligations that should have been listed on the form. But rather than admitting to falsifying the document or forgetting, he plead ‘confusion’ – noting that he had multiple tabs on his browsers up at the time, and got confused when filling out the SF-86 form.
To be fair, confusion in filling out the SF-86 is certainly not rare. It’s a more than 100-page form that asks a variety of details, and it has a penchant for changing up the length of time required to be reported. (Is that an ‘ever’ question? Or every 7 years? How about 10 years? How about since the age of 18?)
Unfortunately for applicants, the burden of responsibility is on the one filling out the form. The government is not particularly concerned if you got distracted, confused, or lazy – they care that you are attesting to the accuracy of the form when you submit it, going so far as to certify that all answers are true. DOHA judges are also pretty good at sniffing out indications that an individual truly was confused – or even potentially mislead. Implying that you failed to provide adverse information because you were distracted rings of personal conduct issues – and that the applicant was trying to mislead, rather than being forthcoming. Also, keep in mind, the burden of proof is on the applicant – no individual has a right to obtain a security clearance, and the process is designed to ensure only those with the capacity for maintaining national security protocols make the cut. If busy browsers distract you from filling out a form correctly, what about maintaining classification codes or policies and passwords?
In this case, it was financial issues, but the personal conduct problem also frequently comes up for drug use or prior criminal conduct. Other than current, ongoing drug use, issues can be mitigated. Appearing to lie or even just mislead about them is not a good look.
FALSE: Intent may be a factor, but it doesn’t matter if it was accidental or on purpose – SF-86 errors could cost you your clearance.
There is a reason one of the biggest pieces of advice we give to new clearance applicants is to carefully fill out the SF-86. Want your clearance faster? Make sure your SF-86 is clean and correct. Want to improve your chances of obtaining a security clearance? Make sure you take the time necessary to fill out the SF-86 well. Ignorance of the law is no excuse to break it – ignorance of the SF-86 is no excuse for failing to fill it out correctly. Information that’s left out – and particularly adverse, negative information that’s left out – will appear to be an attempt to mislead. You may be my office hero and share my love for using multiple browsers and 20+ tabs, but it doesn’t mean that will help you if you oopsy-daisy your security clearance application. Intent is a factor, but ignorance is no excuse.