Security clearance applicants have a lot to be concerned about when completing an SF-86 (or soon-to-be PVQ), but truthfulness and consistency are at the top of the list.

When You Weren’t Truthful the First Time…

In theory, consistency should naturally follow if an applicant is truthful on his or her application. But some applicants are not truthful or attempt to “massage the facts.” When that happens and the falsification or misrepresentation isn’t caught the first time, completing a subsequent SF-86 may feel like an epic battle of conscience: double down on the lie to stay consistent or tell the truth.

This most often happens in areas of the application that are difficult for the government to independently verify, like substance abuse and foreign ties. However, even in areas that leave a clear paper trail like arrest or credit history, some applicants tie themselves into knots with evolving stories that they have a difficult time keeping straight. In either context, even a hint of candor issues can result in some uncomfortable questioning by investigators and additional digging.

Not Every Omission is the Same

Fortunately, not every omission on an application is sufficient evidence of falsification. The government must prove “substantial evidence” of falsification under the law; this is a low standard, but it requires more than mere speculation. An applicant who can credibly demonstrate that he or she did not intend to falsify their form – and ideally, that they had no objective reason to do so – has a decent chance at redemption.

For everyone else, the situation becomes simultaneously less complicated and more problematic. To come clean and tell the truth on a subsequent form means risking the revocation of the existing security clearance; the long-term employability repercussions and stigma that come with that; and, in particularly serious cases, criminal prosecution. But for an applicant intent on completing a new application, truthfulness with all its potential repercussions is the only option. Doubling down on the earlier falsification re-starts the statute of limitations on a federal false statements charge and significantly ups the risk of a nightmare scenario if caught.

On the other hand, those who are not willing to accept those risks also have only one option: get out while the getting is good. In other words, don’t complete a new SF-86, pursue uncleared work instead, and wait for the prior falsification to fall outside the reporting scope (7 or 10 years for most issues) on a new application.

If and when that happens, the applicant can revisit the possibility of a cleared career, truthfully complete a new security clearance application, and no one is the wiser. It isn’t an ideal scenario for most cleared workers, but it certainly beats the alternative.


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. 


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Sean M. Bigley retired from the practice of law in 2023, after a decade representing clients in the security clearance process. He was previously an investigator for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (then-U.S. Office of Personnel Management) and served from 2020-2024 as a presidentially-appointed member of the National Security Education Board. For security clearance assistance, readers may wish to consider Attorney John Berry, who is available to advise and represent clients in all phases of the security clearance process, including pre-application counseling, denials, revocations, and appeals. Mr. Berry can be found at