There are three levels of security clearance – Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret. A Secret and Top Secret clearance both use the SF-86 as the application for determining suitability. An SF-85 is used for Public Trust determinations. While the forms are slightly different, the questions applicants have about the process are often similar. But slight changes in date ranges can make responding to questions slightly confusing for some applicants. A recent commenter on the ClearanceJobsBlog  got hung-up by the SF-85P investigative process and its varying date ranges:

Some of my jobs were under three months. What is the mechanism to uncover unmentioned jobs? I’ve had several friends not have short-term jobs uncovered with the form. Additionally, some workplaces refer all inquiries (at least in the private sector) to HR–and I have heard the form in question is often returned from there. Is this not the case of federal investigators SP85? I’ve had HR say they will only answer the form with directory information as a form of policy. How many terminations for performance are acceptable for someone with 4 years in the field before suitability is determined not available? Regarding the SF-85P, it asks for 7 years of employment, but only asks the question of termination for the last 5. How do the two years beyond the 5 years factor into suitability, and does the hiring manager see the results of the investigation?


Comments to the thread note the applicant may be overthinking it with all of these questions. HARPOON says, “Way too many questions here. Simply fill out the form and provide the information as requested in the questionnaire.” Don’t forget that there are some pretty serious penalties for false statements on this form. But let’s unpack Porter1’s many questions.

  • What is the mechanism for uncovering unmentioned jobs? Discrepancies in your answers can come from reference interviews, including your friends, peers, neighbors, colleagues or supervisors. Reference interviews are highly unlikely for a Confidential clearance, but may still come up through financial or government employment records or tax filings.
  • Background investigators and Human Resources departments: Per the SF-85P form, “The investigation may extend beyond the time covered by this form, when necessary to resolve issues. Your current employer may be contacted as part of the investigation, although you may have previously indicated on applications or other forms that you do not want your current employer to be contacted.” This certainly can include contacting a former company’s HR department to verify dates of employment and job titles.
  • How many terminations for performance are acceptable for someone with 4 years in the field before suitability is determined not available? Public trust suitability criteria include misconduct or negligence in employment; criminal or dishonest conduct; material, intentional false statement, deception or fraud in examination or appointment; refusal to furnish testimony as required for the investigation; alcohol abuse; drug abuse; engagement in acts designed to overthrow the U.S. government; or any statutory or regulatory bar that prevents the lawful employment of the person involved in the position in question. There is no specific amount of terminations that will be an issue, but employment concerns will be considered using the whole person concept. Be prepared to provide reasons for the terminations.
  • The SF-85P asks for 7 years of employment, but only inquiries about termination for the last 5. How do the two years beyond the 5 years factor into suitability? The form asks about terminations/being fired, or the applicant quitting once they gained knowledge of their termination in a few places. Here’s one: “Have any of the following happened to you in the last seven (7) years at employment activities that you have not previously listed? – Fired from a job? – Quit a job after being told you would be fired? – Have you left a job by mutual agreement following charges or allegations of misconduct? – Left a job by mutual agreement following notice of unsatisfactory performance? – Received a written warning, been officially reprimanded, suspended, or disciplined for misconduct in the workplace, such as violation of a security policy?”
  • Does the hiring manager see the results of the investigation? The hiring manager will obtain the results of the security clearance determination. In general, a hiring manager is not interested in the details of the SF-85 – that is the Facility Security Officer’s purview – but an applicant should be aware that for positions requiring a security clearance, the results of the investigation are of direct relevance to the hiring manager.

The Investigative Process

Whether you’re deciding to gamble with lady justice and lie or omit details on the form or are interested in being truthful and letting the cards fall where they may, here is additional language on the overall background investigation process for the SF-85P.

“Background investigations for public trust positions are conducted to gather information to determine whether you are reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and loyal to the U.S. The information that you provide on this form and your Declaration for Federal Employment (OF 306) may be confirmed during the investigation…If you have a security freeze on your consumer or credit report file, then we may not be able to complete your investigation, which can adversely affect your eligibility for a public trust position or your ability to obtain Federal or contract employment. To avoid such delays, you must request that the consumer reporting agencies lift the freeze in these instances. In addition to the questions on this form, inquiry also is made about your adherence to security requirements your honesty and integrity, falsification, misrepresentation, and any other behavior, activities, or associations that tend to demonstrate a person is not reliable, trustworthy, or loyal. After a suitability /fitness determination is made, you may also be subject to continuous vetting which may include periodic reinvestigations to ensure your continuing suitability for employment.”

NATIONAL AGENCY CHECK AND INQUIRIES (NACI):  Employment/Self-employment/Unemployment Coverage, Education, Residence, Reference Contacts, Law Enforcement Checks, National Agency Checks, FBI National Criminal History Fingerprint Check, Credit Search of National Credit Bureaus, Military Personnel Record Search (if applicable), Citizenship Verification

MODERATE BACKGROUND INVESTIGATION (MBI): Reference Contacts, Law Enforcement Checks, Credit Search of National Credit Bureaus

BACKGROUND INVESTIGATION (BI): Personal Subject Interview, Education, Residence, Law Enforcement Checks, National Agency Checks, Credit Search of National Credit Bureaus


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Katie Keller is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 8+ years in the DoD supporting multiple contractors with recruitment strategy, staffing augmentation, marketing, & communications. Favorite type of beer: IPA. Fave hike: the Grouse Grind, Vancouver, BC. Fave social platform: ClearanceJobs! 🇺🇸