Personal conduct is consistently among the top causes of security clearance denial, just under financial considerations. If you peruse previous Ask CJ’s over the years, you will find a common theme when it comes to denial appeals, initial applications, polygraphs, and more… an applicant who lied and got caught in the process.

In many cases, it isn’t the drug use, that one time you engaged in prostitution, or the illegal YouTube download that result in revoking a security clearance. It’s the fact that the applicant or clearance holder did not tell the truth.

A Department of Energy (DOE) contractor faced this exact problem head on a few years ago, but the story is still very relevant. He was initially denied eligibility due to Guideline E: Personal Conduct, but appealed the decision and overcame the lie he told on the SF-86. Marko Hakamaa, moderator on the blog writes:

“The applicant was interviewed by an OPM investigator and self-admitted to providing false information about illegal drug use prior being confronted about it by the investigator. The applicant provided evidence that he had discussed the issue with his girlfriend prior to the interview and planned on being totally honest and truthful, regardless of the consequences. The [DOHA] judge opined that, yes, he initially provided false information on the form, but at the first opportunity voluntarily came forward and corrected his answers. Had the applicant waited for the investigator to confront him, then it would not have been viewed in the same light.”


The applicant came clean in a timely fashion and that was in his best interest in the long run. Lying in the first place is a no-no, but it sounds like he had documentation of his moral dilemma and that he planned on owning up prior to getting caught – which is key.

That’s a good thing, because the punishment for lying can be fierce. Sean Bigley, security clearance attorney, notes that there is another group of applicants who lied on the SF-86 but did not get caught (or come forward) then obtained that clearance. “If you completed your last SF-86 less than five years ago, you are still within the statute of limitations for a federal false statements prosecution. Such cases are rare, but they do happen – especially when the lie was particularly egregious and would have resulted in a clearance not being granted.”

Other commenters on the blog note that they have too admitted to using marijuana or other hard drugs, been smacked with a DUI arrest, or other criminal conduct scenarios and still had a favorable adjudication for security clearance. It’s another reminder that you should just be as transparent as possible, since applicants are judged against all adjudicative guidelines under the whole person concept. We’re human. We make mistakes. But lying will only sink your chances of obtaining clearance – so always tell the truth.


Much about the clearance process resembles the Pirate’s Code: “more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.” This case-by-case system is meant to consider the whole person, increase process security, and allow the lowest-risk/highest-need candidates to complete the process. However, it also creates a  lot of questions for applicants. For this reason, ClearanceJobs  maintains – a forum where clearance seekers can ask the cleared community for advice on their specific security concerns. Ask CJ explores questions posed  on the ClearanceJobs Blog forum, emails received, and comments from this site.

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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! 🇺🇸