We get a lot of very specific reader questions here at ClearanceJobs and ClearanceJobs Blog. Some are thought-provoking, some entertaining, and some downright bizarre. But all of them share one commonality: they reflect the anxiety that the security clearance process, and especially the background investigation, can induce.
One recent reader inquiry was whether questions from a background investigator about the clearance applicant’s family were normal. Our concerned reader describes the situation as follows:
“My brother has a TS clearance and is in the investigation process for SCI with FS [full-scope] polygraph. His investigator explicitly requested 10 years of job/residence history for me and 2 other siblings for my *brother’s* investigation. I have a TS SCI and I’ve never heard of anyone asking for family members’ home address/work history going back 10 years on the SF-86. I called the investigator directly and he was very short with me but basically said this additional information is required for my brother’s investigation because we siblings were born outside the U.S. (true). However, I was naturalized as a minor [many years ago]…”
Putting aside the fact that I feel a bit like “Dear Abbey,” this is a question worth answering because it highlights some of the quirks in the security clearance process that can cause applicants unnecessary stress.
What’s Normal and What’s Not
To start, no, this is not a normal request, at least not for the applicant pool as a whole. In a decade representing federal employees and contractors in the security clearance process and several years before that as an investigator, I don’t recall ever seeing a request for this specific information. That said, I have seen plenty of cases where agencies requested other additional information from applicants not called for on the SF-86 (which is called “expanding the scope of the investigation”), including information about family members. There were various reasons for doing so, but these requests almost always caused applicants to assume the worst. In reality, they are often more a reflection of due diligence by the federal agency than they are a harbinger of problems. What triggered it in this particular case is anyone’s guess, but the reader’s brother might eventually be able to figure it out by submitting a Privacy Act request for a copy of the background investigation report once completed. Each federal agency has instructions for doing that on their website under the tab for “FOIA” requests.
Common Practices in the IC
Expanding the scope of an investigation occurs predominantly at Intelligence Community agencies – which already have more stringent (and stressful) screening procedures in place than non-IC agencies. The FS polygraph suggests we are, indeed, dealing with the IC. However, expanding the scope of an investigation also isn’t exclusive to the IC. For example, some DHS components routinely ask the applicant to provide proof of family member naturalization, which always struck me as odd since investigators at DHS of all places can easily verify that themselves.
Although this particular request is unusual, and it could well signify an overzealous and out-of-line investigator, it strikes me as more likely a legitimate request since most investigators are contractors who are only getting paid for agency taskings. Either way, I wouldn’t personally lose sleep over it unless there is a concern about problematic information being discovered. Assuming the reader’s other siblings are also citizen-residents of the United States and aren’t engaged in problematic activities that could result in the clearance applicant being compromised, this is something that should sort itself out in adjudication without even a blip on the radar. The same is true with a lot of other applicant concerns – but it never hurts to ask.
This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Although the information is believed to be accurate as of the publication date, no guarantee or warranty is offered or implied. Laws and government policies are subject to change, and the information provided herein may not provide a complete or current analysis of the topic or other pertinent considerations. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation.