For all of the many years that I have been practicing in this area of law, I have never seen a consistent and recurrent news theme where security clearance issues and problems continue to be predominate in the daily news cycle. In fact, what prompted me to write this blog post is the recent news article, titled “Dozens Of White House Staffers Stripped Of Top Level Security Clearance.”
The Initial SF 86
The nuanced area of clearances that I would like to discuss in this blog post relates, in a sense, to what happened to many of the White House staffers. Many people can get interim secret clearances after being sponsored by an organization and submitting the initial SF 86. At higher levers levels of our government, however, it becomes paramount for many people to have top-secret security clearances and even offshoots of the top-secret called TS-SCI, which stands for Sensitive Compartmented Information, or TS-SAP which stands for Special Access Programs. These are the highest levels of clearance available. The problem arises when someone is put in for this type of clearance.
Your New SF 86
Regardless of how long or short of a time that an individual has had a secret clearance, when someone is put in for a top-secret clearance they are required to submit a new SF 86. Many times, the new top-secret clearance will also come with a requirement for a polygraph examination. As a result, many people become concerned about filling out the new SF 86 and may not be mindful of answering the questions as they have on their previous SF 86’s.
In fact, the instructions to answer the SF 86 specifically note that the government can look at all previous SF 86’s in the past that have been completed by applicants. I’ve seen cases that go back 30 years, covering three secret SF 86’s over 10 year periods each. If the answers change on the new one, as contrasted to the old ones, that is a huge problem for clearance access. I bring this up to remind people to make sure they are consistent with their answers in light of what they have answered in previous SF 86’s.
If there is any doubt or concern at all, please be very mindful and considered in your answers and make sure your stories in your past are consistent. If not, I can guarantee that you will have a clearance issue. Sometimes people who run into an issue applying for a top-secret clearance will think that this shouldn’t be a problem, since they could always go back to the secret clearance that they already had before problems arose with the top-secret clearance. That is absolutely not correct. What will happen is that the government will look to revoke or deny all clearances, to include the secret clearance you currently have, if there is now a problem with the top-secret clearance. Where I’ve seen this situation arise is that people get worried about having to take a polygraph examination or answering the questions differently now on the new SF 86 for a top-secret as compared to how they have answer the questions in the past. I urge anyone in this situation to pause and discuss this with a security clearance professional prior to completing the new SF 86. As the saying goes, knowledge is power!
If someone has any concerns at all regarding how to complete and answer problematic questions on the SF 86, I urge them to consider all facets and ramifications of any troubling questions prior to answering the questions! Many times I have seen problem answers that security clearance applicants have provided which could have been cleaned up on the front end and most likely prevented them from having a problem with their clearance in the first place.
I have been helping people with all facets of their security clearance for years, to include the initial submission of the SF 86 through representation at security clearance revocation hearings. If I can be of assistance to you with any concerns or issues regarding a security clearance, please email me or call me at 256-713-0221.