This article is not designed to be an item-by-item instruction manual for completing the Standard Form 86 (SF 86)/electronic security clearance application, or eApp, but I hope to provide general information about completing the form and where to get help if you need it.
For most Federal Government civilian, military and contractor positions, employees are required to complete a SF 86. This form, and its equivalent electronic version (eApp), have evolved over the years and the latest version was revised in 2017. The length of the form can be intimidating, but it is a necessary item for investigation and suitability for clearance processing. When I applied for my first Secret clearance in 1972, the form used was one – repeat “one” – page long. When I applied for my first Top Secret clearance, the form was all of three pages. The current SF-86 is 136 pages. Welcome to the future.
Preparation is key
Get it in your head that completing the SF 86 is a requirement. That will make it much easier to approach and finish the task. Next, get a blank SF 86 to start gathering the information that most people do not have memorized. Ask your security officer for a company guide, if one exists, to assist in accessing the eApp system and completing the form. If the company does not have a guide, you can access one at the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency website. This site gives very detailed guidance on completing the form. Obtain a current credit report from the three major credit reporting agencies at annualcreditreport.com or freecreditreport.com. This will help ensure that you answer questions regarding your financial history/status accurately. I personally recommend that everyone obtain a credit report every year to check for identification theft and to ensure that your creditors are accurately reporting information to these agencies.
Accessing the eApp website: The eApp website is under the auspices of DCSA. This website also has an excellent guide that can assist you in completing the form. When you first access the eApp system, you will be prompted to create a user ID and password, as well as three “Golden Questions”, essentially security questions as you may have for other system accesses. You will need to remember your ID/password/Golden Questions as you will use them every time you access the eApp system, now and for future requirements to complete an eApp.
Not everyone knows or remembers exactly everything that has happened in his life – exact dates that you lived at an address, exact dates of employment at every employment you have had, telephone numbers, email addresses, etc. There is no harm in estimating dates or answering that you do not remember your first supervisor’s name or know someone’s cell phone number. However, the eApp has an excellent certification/validation process as you cannot move from one section to another unless you have answered every question, even if that answer is “unknown” or “do not remember.” Almost every section has an available comment block so you can explain an entry.
Honesty is the best policy. When completing the SF 86/eApp, answer the question that is asked, not implied. Read the question carefully. Some questions ask “In the past seven years…”, while others ask “Have you ever…”. If you need advice on how you should answer a question, ask your security officer first. However, if your security officer tells you to deliberately provide false or misleading information or to leave pertinent information off the form, he/she is doing you a personal disservice and a professional disservice to the entire Personnel Security Program. If you get such an answer from your security officer or if you are uncomfortable in discussing the subject matter with your security officer, there are websites such as this one where you can pose anonymous questions and usually get good quality responses. Another option is to contact an attorney or security consultant who has knowledge of the Personnel Security Program for assistance. Not every “yes” answer will result in a clearance denial. As an example, assume that an applicant had a DUI arrest five years ago and was given probation before judgment, paid court costs and attended an alcohol abuse program. First of all, the arrest will undoubtedly show up during the investigation, so failing to list it in the appropriate sections of the form is a really bad idea. If this is the sole issue in the investigation, a single DUI arrest five years ago should not result in a clearance denial. However, if the applicant falsifies the form, the issue of Personal Conduct is now a very recent issue and the applicant’s basic honesty is now in question.
Your security officer will probably encourage you to complete the SF 86/eApp as quickly as possible. The faster you complete the form, the faster the investigation can be initiated/completed and the faster you can be granted a suitability determination or security clearance. Most government contractor positions require a favorable suitability decision or an interim security clearance before the individual can be placed on the job, so it is in your best interest to complete the form quickly and accurately, as well as cooperate with any need for fingerprinting or providing other information/documents that may be required.
After you certify your eApp, you have the opportunity to print and retain a copy for your personal records. DO IT. Although the eApp system was designed to retain your information forever, accidents can happen. When I completed my eApp for my periodic reinvestigation in December 2011, my information from 2007 had disappeared and I had to start from scratch. Since I had retained a copy in 2007, I had about 90% of the information I needed, but I had to enter everything beginning with my name and it took me five-six hours. When my boss completed her SF-86 in February 2012, her prior information was still there and she completed the update in about one hour. Good luck, and happy data entering.
This article was updated for accuracy in 2021.