Security Clearance Process

Security Clearance Process: Pathetic?

An 0p-ed in the Washington Post by former deputy secretary of defense and chairman of the Defense Policy Board John Hamre calls the current security clearance process pathetic.

Hamre relayed the process he had to go through for his recent top secret security clearance renewal. For unclear reasons he had to re-submit his electronic SF-86. While this itself was an annoyance, it seemed to be the security clearance interview that sent Hamre over the edge in his frustration with the process.

A security clearance investigator requested a two-hour interview which included a line-by-line Q and A concerning the responses in Hamre’s SF-86. As a system for rooting out spies, Hamre deemed the point-by-point confirmation of his previously submitted document to be systemic of a flawed system:

I once served on the board of a major company that collected computer records and provided knowledge services (for example, credit reports) and customer verification services to the insurance industry. The company could detect fraud in more than 99 percent of cases by asking a potential claimant five questions along the lines of: “Did you live at 123 Maple Ave., 345 Apple Ave. or 456 Oak Ave.?” “At 123 Maple Ave., did your house have two bathrooms, two and a half, or four?” “Did the house at 345 Apple Ave. have one fireplace, two or none?”

It needed only five such questions. Why, then, does OPM have workers reading applicants the forms that the applicants themselves have filled out, then asking whether this is the truth?

Hamre isn’t the only one calling for security clearance reforms. In congressional testimony last year Gene Dodoro with the Government Accountability Office specifically called out the security clearance investigations as an area for cost reform, including downgrading clearance designations or reducing the number of cleared personnel. The cost of a top secret security clearance investigation is significantly more expensive than that of a secret clearance.

And just last month several defense contractors called for more standardization and the use of technology to improve the clearance process.

Clearance reform – it’s definitely not a new topic for the audience here. In the face of budget cuts there’s no question it may be flagged as an area of cost savings. Unfortunately, with sequestration acting as more of a blunt instrument than a fine point, it seems unlikely that clearance reform will achieve the full lifecycle technology advancements the critics seem to be arguing for.

What do you think? Do you agree with the criticism? If so, how would you really improve the system?

Comment Archive

  1. Avatar

    Yes, let’s do a hundred dollar criminal and credit check, then give a clearance to everyone who passes.

    Easy peasy. What could go wrong?

  2. Avatar

    I recently had to answer one of these so-called screening programs. This stupid thing asked me about square footage of a home I lived in about 18 years ago–really, I don’t even know the square footage of my current home.

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    Questions like that are especially difficult for those of use that live in circular buildings.

    Yea, that’s a joke.

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    As a contractor background investigator for OPM I say without hesitation the BI as it is set up is almost completely worthless. But this is the livelihood for a lot of people (especially in Eastern PA) so those doing this work will take offense to this position. It is my livelihood too, but I have to be honest, and hopefully I can find another job if the system is overhauled.

    I worked in the U.S. Government for an agency dealing with national security issues in real-time. We had access to a database that gave us a whole lot more info than criminal checks and credit checks. And a whole lot more info than is listed in and SF-86 security questionnaire. When I needed foreign travel information I’d pick up the phone. And it didn’t cost a hundred bucks. Or even ten bucks.

    A background investigation should be done by a few people in half a day (at most) and most of it from a call center type of office in Northern Virginia. If the Subj needs to be contacted, it can be done by phone. Forget personal sources, they are useless. Make the adjudications process as cumbersome as an instant financial check. Scrap the gruesome and worthless reports. I have spent hours on FINL SPINs and hours typing up all the information the Subj didn’t know. I transmit, tell myself it’ll improve, and go on to my 3 dozen other cases. Then a month later I’ll get a call from a “Krystal” in Grove City, PA re-opening on me because I forgot to put in the disclaimer: “The Subject intends to fulfill his financial obligations in the future and there is no reason for anyone to question his intention or ability to pay his financial debts.” He might have a bankruptcy, involuntary repo of his RV and car, 7 years of collections and charge offs from Kohl’s and Zale’s, but of course he intends to pay his debts in the future and there’s no reason for anyone to question that. And I’m sure the credit companies will be as deliberate and judicious toward him as the adjudicators for national security. After all, with the former we are just talking about money and the latter about national security. This lunacy extends to all of the areas of the BI as it is set up now.

    Scrap contractor investigations (sorry USIS, Keypoint, CACI, et al.). Scrap field work as it is done now, and have it largely by conducted from database checks, phone calls, and a few people. Move FIS under DHS so it can have access to orders of magnitude more usuable information and real-time agency intel. Make the OPM federal investigators into real federal agents (with guns) and have them conduct the BI’s. The ones who don’t want guns and go out into the field can be put in office based assignments.

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    Sorry, I mistakenly said Eastern PA when I meant Western PA (i.e., Boyers).

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    After about 40 late payments/collections/judgments, Subject will still say nobody would question ability/willingness to pay debt. Do they not see how stupid that is.

  7. Avatar

    The process needs to be broken down and reconfigured. So many of the questions we ask are completely irrelevant. As technology advances, the government needs to start looking at social media (we can probably learn more about our subjects by simply looking at their Facebook page than we can by conducting the interview). I think the process is currently total flawed. For example, we have to get sources from every work location, including when the entire office moves. So, a company shuts down one location and moves everyone- four sources. Really???

    We are glorified secretaries. Most of our time is spent correcting mistakes made by subjects who did not bother reading the instructions. And confronting subjects on unlisted information that aren’t relevant for adjudication.

    I think, for starters, OPM needs to go back to rejecting questionnaires that weren’t completed properly. And retraining security officers who release these forms to OPM certified complete.

    The questions need to change to become relevant. I work for one OPM- compliant agency that asks relevant questions. All of the questions make sense. And they don’t go through the form answer by answer. Blanket questions that cover a lot of information. And open questions…

    It does get frustrating doing this job. But nothing beats the flexibility…

  8. Avatar

    Contractor said:

    I think, for starters, OPM needs to go back to rejecting questionnaires that weren’t completed properly.

    I think for starters we have a professional company make up the questionnaires. And make them grammatically correct. I always have to confront intelligent people on the following negative answer to the second question in section 12:

    Have you received a degree or diploma more then [sic] ten years ago? Really? Oy!

  9. Avatar

    Or confront subj about omitted earned Masters Degree. REALLY? Ya, subj was hiding how educated he is???????

  10. Avatar

    I actually think the system needs to be retooled but not thrown out all together. I don’t mind the SF-86, if filled out correctly, it is a great tool. I would love to see OPM reject the ones filled out incorrectly, that I agree on.

    I also don’t mind the mindless questions, many, many times, developed residences, employments, educations come from the mindless stuff. I think the training on how we approach these questions needs to be overhauled and we need to start with the core concept, “trust but verify.” If this line of work needed a slogan, that would be it for me.

    I do believe the reporting system needs to be simplified, DoD has already said as much. The implementation has been slow and not sweeping enough but there have been small steps in the right direction. The negative reporting needs to stop, clear and concise quidance on exactly what needs to be in the report should be given. Regular report writing training should be made a priority, if only just to keep up with the continuing changes in policy.

    I approach each case with the ‘trust but verify’ mantra in my head and it works pretty good so far.

    Also, being armed would be fun but what would we be arresting subjects for exactly?

  11. Avatar

    When the new form was rolled out a few years ago, I approached a field manager with a request for training. All I wanted was to sit it on a mock interview to make sure I was still asking the necessary questions, as my email inbox is full of changes that have never made their way to the handbook. I was told that he could get ten different investigators to do ten different mock interviews with the same paperwork and none of the interviews would look the same- we’d all be asking different questions… Great.

    I agree the reporting requirements need to change. Is it really that important that my subject forgot to list a prior investigation from 1986? Those four sentences I have to write about it also have to be read by someone. Gigantic waste of time.

    Back to the forms being filled out properly- think that solves a lot of problems and would free up time to focus on important issues. I have had so many no-issue reports over 6000 characters due to fixing issues with the form. Talk about a waste of time.

  12. Avatar

    I also don’t mind the mindless questions, many, many times, developed residences, employments, educations come from the mindless stuff. I think the training on how we approach these questions needs to be overhauled and we need to start with the core concept, “trust but verify.” If this line of work needed a slogan, that would be it for me.

    Can’t some administrative assistant from Pennsylvania go over this on the phone with the Subj prior to a Subj interview? He/she will have a copy of what he/she entered into the security questionnaire in front of him/her and they will go over the info together. And not the extremely inefficient and prone to error way of an investigator reading back the information to the Subj and he/she confirming it. A lot of people are visual and simply cannot confirm stuff without seeing it. These are the Subjects who will tell you, “I guess that’s correct if that’s what I put down” or “Can I see that?” As the AA is going over the details on the SF-86 and corrections or additions are made she is entering and making the changes, right then and there, by keyboard.

  13. Avatar

    A good start would be taking out the “explanation” or free text option in the equip. I need not day more, we all know

  14. Avatar

    Say more…right

  15. Avatar

    I want my MTV

  16. Avatar

    The part that really irks me about this is the only “solution” they can think of is to restrict people from getting green badges. Every job absolutely requires you to not only have it, but to have a fresh investigation. Agency recently had me working a long task but said they were out of money to do my reinvestigation. So now that is over and other agencies, besides thinking my clearance stinks because it isn’t from their agency, think my poly and reinvestigation is too old. SO I got one started, it went to the very end, but after 8 months they suspended it for some reason, unknown to me, something like me “not needing it.” Well, I need it so that I can get back on contract! Combine all that with the 18 month sales cycle, and you just keep creating time-outs all over the place, with a vast amount of disagreement about exactly what the situation is, except that everybody in security defaults to “no”. A couple of years ago I witnessed the Second Coming over at ODNI, where I thought they had finally made a deal to have ALL agencies do employment suitabillity and first level security as one process. And now it seems even more siloed than it ever was. If somebody would put me on a 20-year contract, I guess this system “works”, but it is totally wrong for the kind of government that we need and that is evolving, despite these absurd constraints.

  17. Avatar

    I think the whole Secret clearance systems is skewed especially the Top Secret Clearance. You can not get a top secret job unless you have a top secret clearance. You can not get a top secret clearance unless you have a top secret job. Which came first the chicken or the egg? Companies are losing great employees because of the way that they agree to write contracts to the government. If they would just put into the contract that persons with a secret clearance must be able to obtain a Top Secret Clearance within 6 months of employment. I know someone who was in the Air Force 20 years then a government contractor for 13 years and could not even step into the facility because their secret clearance was not good enough. Government Contract Companies are loosing excellent employees to the civilian sector because the secret clearance is becoming of no use anymore.

  18. Avatar

    For 5000 dollars and 2 hours of your time you also terrorist can have a top secret clearance. It’s the biggest waste of taxpayers money I have ever seen, it is wasteful.

  19. Avatar

    . I’m sure OPM could find some reasons for armed raids.

    Maybe kicking down BW’s door, shooting out his MTV, and interrogating him about why he is not out finding more REFE’s to testify that the Subject is a great guy. 🙂

  20. Avatar

    Also, being armed would be fun but what would we be arresting subjects for exactly?

    Armed Food and Drug Administration special agents do things like raid Amish farms in Lancaster, Pennsylvania for selling raw milk I’m sure OPM could find some reasons for armed raids. ????

  21. Avatar

    A million years ago when I first started doing this job I had a SPiN where I was supposed to confront a subject about an open warrant. I called the help desk to see if I should inform the authorities of his whereabouts, as I had a meeting set up with him. I was told not to…

  22. Avatar

    I’ve had a similar SPIN. Usually they tell you NOT to confront on an open warrant, but this particular case said to confront. I called to confirm an they said yes. I pointed out that things could get a little dicey if the subj a) new about the warrant and was determined to stay out of jail or (more likely) b) the subject didn’t know about it and freaked out and thought I was going to arrest him at his job. The second happened. Took like 10 mins to calm him down, convince him he wasn’t about to be hauled out in handcuffs in front if his boss, and get the necessary info.

  23. Avatar

    I think we should have our own drones. By drones, I mean homicidal robots, a-la the Transformers, not drones as in automatons of report writing verifiers, although now that I think about it, those might be useful as well.

  24. Avatar


    Next time go to the warrant division to confirm and hand them a release first–that’s what I do. The release is like a piece of chocolate to a warrant division and bill collectors.

  25. Avatar

    Warrant Division: No thanks, we do not need a release.

    Me: Sorry, I have to give you one because it has the Subject’s most CURRENT contact info on it and it gives me permission to check. I need the info, because at 2 pm I will be interviewing him/her at the following address:_______________________. Thanks, see ya.

  26. Avatar

    Good idea. This warrant was in another state like 1,000 miles away, though.

  27. Avatar

    There is an active warrant on me for Impersonating an Investigator 🙂

  28. Avatar


    I am still in-search of the elusive Refe that is willing to say bad things. Once that quest is over, my work will be done here and I can resign.

  29. Avatar

    We can’t arm the fed side because too many are way too old and the last gun they fired was a muzzle loader 🙂

  30. Avatar

    Darrow–they can kicked down doors the minute a set of notes isn’t sent back, one minute past 14 days.

  31. Avatar

    One last thing, Video Killed the Radio Star.

  32. Avatar


    As long as sources are subject to the Privacy Act, they aren’t going to say anything negative. I love the employment sources who, when asked “has the subject every had any disciplinary actions or reprimands” answers (with a very uncomfortable look on his/her face) “not that I’M aware of but I’m not their supervisor so you’d have to check with them about that”… Always a red flag but they will NEVER admit to anything. Or the subject who acknowledges issues at work, tells you who is aware of those issues and when you go interview those people, the subject is perfect with no issues as far as they’re concerned. So irritating…

  33. Avatar

    Did you guys read the op-ed? This Harve guy makes his 1st complaint about having to list all his OFGB foreign travel….which is NOT required! I bet he was a joy to interview

  34. Avatar

    Hamre is correct, the whole process is flawed. I have had investigators question me relentlessly about a reckless driving citation from thirty years ago. Come on, it was thirty years ago and I have had as potles driving record since then. I am working in IT, not driving a car. I can understand if I was arrested for hacking or something like that. All I can say is that I am glad that finally left the IC world and now work for a federal agency that doesn’t care about that happened thirty years ago.

  35. Avatar

    I don’t like it when over zealous investigators go to talk to people on the SF-86 about working with you and then ask to speak to others in the office. What if you speak to a person that didn’t get along with the person being investigated? Are you going to believe them? I had that to happen to me. An old wanna be supervisor talked to an investigator about me and I didn’t even put his name no where on my 86. This dude said so much wrong stuff about me and acted like I didn’t know about it. So when I went back to to government building to do contract work for another company I ran into him. He looked like he had seen a ghost. I knew what he said, he didn’t know if I knew. But he is the one running a side business from his government office and cheating on his wife with the young interns. But he made me look like the worst person in the world and the investigator ate that up and wanted more information that made me look bad. So some of the processes we have to go through for this clearance should be re-evaluated. I do agree that the process should be shorter. It should not take 6 – 8 months or more to get approval for a clearance.

  36. Avatar

    I found the biggest problem when I was adjudicating cases was that an issue obviously needing more clarification/information would come out during an interview and/or a review of records and the investigator did not explore it but continued on with the banal questioning they were ordered to complete. I had to send interrogatories to determine what was going on or get something clarified which sometimes were a complete waste of time as well. OPM told us over and over that the investigators were not meant to confront the applicant on any topic. I sure missed the DSS investigative teams who did their jobs well! My other beef was during my last periodic reinvestigation, the investigator asked me why I didn’t list something on my form based on a copy she was given to interview me with. I went to my desk, got my copy and showed her is was listed. I asked her why it wasn’t on her copy and she told me I wasn’t allowed to look at her copy-OK. No problem, but don’t give me attitude when your copy was incomplete to begin with! BTW security clearance investigators will never carry weapons if they are not permitted to make arrests based on criminal information freely given during the course of an investigation.

  37. Avatar

    BW-I had a case where the supervisor called me and was afraid of applicant based on his mental condition, threats made at work and several suicide attempts. He/she wanted to talk with an investigator to disclose info about the applicant and applicant’s behavior at work and when I was finally able to set something up, he didn’t talk because the investigator told him there was no way he could remain anonymous to the applicant! I talked with FSO about why he/she did not get rid of applicant and he/she was also afraid of applicant but declined to provide a statement as well. The corporate office was not in the least supportive. Glad I never worked at that company!

  38. Avatar

    If you’re doing a 5-year update, why not have a shorter sf86 that only covers what happened in the last five years and wouldn’t need to be listed on any prior form? Better yet, since someone with a clearance is required to self report all arrests, criminal charges, overseas travel, financial problems, and basically anything else of adjudicative relevance, why not reduce the form for 5-year updates to just employment, addresses, and references?

  39. Avatar


    Amazing how cowardly folks are.

    I’ve had many over the years where sups say their troops are odd, mean, angry, and bizarre. So would you recommend? Answer: Yes.

  40. Avatar


    While you are technically required to self report all foreign travel, arrests, financial issues etc., a lot of cleared people are terrible about telling their security office about that. That stuff has to stay on there since a lot of the time they forget to report it or do not think they need to, even though they have been told 50 times they must.

    People are just bad at doing SF86s, I was reviewing one before submittal and the guy had listed his supervisor as employer, your supervisor is your supervisor there is a spot for that.

  41. Avatar

    If you’re doing a 5-year update, why not have a shorter sf86 that only covers what happened in the last five years and wouldn’t need to be listed on any prior form? Better yet, since someone with a clearance is required to self report all arrests, criminal charges, overseas travel, financial problems, and basically anything else of adjudicative relevance, why not reduce the form for 5-year updates to just employment, addresses, and references?

    When I do a Subject interview for a 5-year review (SSBI-PR, PPR), I must discuss and include in my report listed periods of unemployment on the security questionnaire. If the Subject lists a period of unemployment in 2004, I must discuss it and ask six questions and include it in my ROI. If they list unemployment from 1988, I must cover it. If some executive VP at some defense contractor forgets to list an open container violation he got while in college in the late 1970’s, a special interview (SPIN) is done and he has to be confronted on this omission. You know how they know it was omitted? From the half-dozen previous clearance investigations where he listed it. The whole thing is right out of Idiocracy. Too bad I’m a health nut and teetotaler because I need to develop a drinking habit to deal with this job. 🙂

  42. Avatar


    Opiates and alcohol. Just remember if you get caught–just promise to never do it again and you are good-to-go 🙂

  43. Avatar

    For people already cleared, security shouldn’t depend primarily on people to self-report during a periodic update. If something happens that is serious enough to possibly revoke a clearance, it shouldn’t take the government ten years for a secret or five years for a ts to figure out that something happened and act accordingly. A better system would integrate data from all the databases out there in real time.

    On a broader perspective, is there any thought to the CI risk of revoking a clearance, especially from someone either with a TS/SCI or working SAP/SAR projects? Financial problems are thought to be one of the causes of espionage. Revoking someone’s clearance, firing them, and then preventing them from getting any new DoD/IC job could cause extreme financial hardship for some people. People don’t forget all the classified they know just because they get read out.

  44. Avatar

    I have to wonder what the clearance process has to say about organizations like the Masons or the Skulls? These organizations tend to be secretive in nature and never really disclose all information with outsiders. While they are generally known to be supposedly good in nature, their secrecy makes it impossible to know their intentions and their members are typically some of the top CEO’s and political figures in the US and some of the world. My point is how can the government trust a member of one of these organizations with a security clearance without knowing their true intentions, especially when one of those intentions could be to undermine and corrupt the government for their own purpose? What they tell the public they do, and what they really do in secrecy can be two completely different things.

  45. Avatar

    Self-Reporting: Only about 8,000 incidents reports are submitted each year on cleared contractors and there are over 1 million cleared contracts. I think it’s fair to say that very few people self-report things that they’re required to report. An investigator once commented on a blog that during a Subject Interview she had no way of knowing whether unfavorable information on a current SF86 had been listed on a prior SF86 or self-reported to an FSO. My response — You ask.

    Confidential Sources: I once interviewed an OSI agent who tried to go confidential on me at the end of the interview. Subject was his classmate at DLI. I had to remind him he was a LEO before he changed is mind.

    SF86: Since e-QIP has been in use in DOD for over 5 years and the data fields are pre-populated with info from the previous one, I don’t feel that much sympathy for people who have to fill it out for a PR. It would be nice if the investigator’s copy of the current SF86 displayed differences from the prior SF86 using a different font, italic, or bold.

  46. Avatar

    I think on the CCY the prior info is bold and all caps.

  47. Avatar

    That ain’t workin’, that’s the way you do it.

    Play your gui-tar on the M-T-V.

  48. Avatar

    Hey everyone,

    Who is that William Henderson guy? He seems to know a bit about clearances 🙂

    Hi William, long time no hear. Beginning to worry.

  49. Avatar

    Confidential Sources: I once interviewed an OSI agent who tried to go confidential on me at the end of the interview. Subject was his classmate at DLI. I had to remind him he was a LEO before he changed is mind.

    As a private contractor I cannot do this kind of stuff. I am not with the government and in my experience OPM gives disproportionate deference to Subjects and source and is quick to assume misfeasance by the contractor investigator. Early on in this job I pressed a source to give me some info. She was reluctant. She asked for verification that this investigation is legit. I gave her the OPM hotline number. She called me back and said she called the OPM hotline number and believed the investigation was legit, but the guy from OPM said she did not have to volunteer any info she did not want to and that the investigator (me) should not have pressured her to do so. After that I realized my job is just checking boxes and sticking to a checklist of disclaimer questions and moving through as many sources as possible each day.

  50. Avatar


    We are in Dire Straits.

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    I think that the Privacy Act should not apply to personnel security background investigations. If sources knew they were able to talk freely we would get a lot better information. And I think the lack of self reporting required information should constitute a security violation.

    The sf-86 being self populated is brilliant. Subjects leave on information dating back to 1984 and don’t double check that information is correct. like prior investigation. They assume their answers were complete from when they filled it out the last time.

    Darrow is right about the line we walk. And you can see by comments on this board by people who aren’t investigators how much respect we get when we’re out in the field. People who are hiding information don’t like us, people who have negative information we are aware of don’t like us, people like Mr.Hamre who are too important to waste their time with the process don’t like us. Even adjudicators don’t like us!

    OPM has made it impossible for us to do the job in a way that makes sense, where we could actually deal with adjudicative issues. We are so wrapped up in the administrative tasks and our guidelines are constantly changing- none of which has any to do with issue related information. And if we uncover negative information from a source, we are prohibited from confronting the subject on it.

  52. Avatar


    Sounds like a very sad state of affairs. BTW failure to self-report is a security violation and it is a potentially disqualifying condition under Guideline E (Personal Conduct) and Guideline K (Handling Protected Information) of the Adjudicative Guidelines. Subject’s should be questioned about their failure to self-report and it should be clearly explained in an ROI.

    I only worked for OPM for two years ending in early 2007. Prior to that I was with DIS/DSS. While with OPM I pretty much did my field work as I had at DSS.

  53. Avatar

    BW: I still visit here regularly, but I only post when I have something to say. Most of the conversations lately have been about current problems experienced by field investigators, and I’ve been out of it for too long to make any meaningful contributions.

    Best regards,

  54. Avatar


    Post more! The problems are still the same and your advice is timeless!

    On another note, Justice Dept announced the conviction of another Fed Investigator out of Colorado for falsification.


  55. Avatar

    Has anyone else experienced a glut in work over the past week? Not sure if OPM is hoarding cases for their own investigators due to the sequestration but there seems to be very little work to go around. My theory is that OPM can stave off furloughs of their investigators by keeping more work for themselves and keeping the costs down of what they’re paying their contractors.

  56. Avatar

    On another note, Justice Dept announced the conviction of another Fed Investigator out of Colorado for falsification.

    I couldn’t find this case when I googled it. I am always interested in reading the details of these cases. What gets me about these cases is it seems that the fabrication was just of a fraction of their work. It’s like someone working hard to save $1000 to buy something and when they find they are $50 short they figure they can just rob a convenience store at gunpoint to make up the $50. These cases are relatively rare but I guess the way to mitigate them is to make investigators work in pairs and switch them up every 6 months.

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    Has anyone else experienced a glut in work over the past week? Not sure if OPM is hoarding cases for their own investigators due to the sequestration but there seems to be very little work to go around. My theory is that OPM can stave off furloughs of their investigators by keeping more work for themselves and keeping the costs down of what they’re paying their contractors.

    I have been loaded up with so much casework I am overwhelmed. This is no doubt due to my company picking up work from another company. I wish I were a contractor and not a full-time employee. Unfortunately they make it too difficult to move to one status or the other.

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    Work has been slower for months in my area/company. Almost nothing but SPINS, REFES one-offs and extensions. We keep being told that OPM will be releasing a lot of work in March. We’ll see.

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    “My theory is that OPM can stave off furloughs of their investigators by keeping more work for themselves and keeping the costs down of what they’re paying their contractors.”

    That’s the concept. The whole idea of using contract Investigation Service Providers (ISPs) is to give the Government more flexibility to accommodate short and long term changes in the number and type of investigations requested by user agencies. The other benefit was that it would cost less than a federal workforce. I don’t think that part worked as well as they thought it would. If contract ISPs actually did the work for less than FISD, OPM should have let FISD slowly shrink in size through normal attrition, maintaining only enough federal investigators to conduct the BIs on contract investigators.

    Regarding caseload at OPM, I know that in mid-February the Air Force suspended almost all Top Secret Periodic Reinvestigations indefinitely due to fiscal problems. Last year they suspended TSPRs from April to September for the same reason. I’m not sure if any other agencies are doing this because of budgetary shortfalls, but it’s one of the few options available to cut personnel security costs. Clearances don’t expire, but the underlying investigations can expire. It’s generally believed that TSPRs must be initiated shortly before the 5 year anniversary of the last investigation, but in reality for collateral TSPRs it can be stretch out to 7 years. The current fiscal problem may be the reason the Government has not yet implemented the decision to reduce the PR interval for Confidential and Secret clearances to 5 years.

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    I wouldn’t be surprised if the Air Force keeps this in place all year to save funds. It’s a bad sign when they freeze these. If the USAF is having issues, other will soon follow.

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    I could be completely wrong about this but I think the areas which are weighted heavily towards defense contractors/tech versus military and U.S. government will be hit hardest. Cut backs in military/govt spending will cause defense contractors not to get clearances for everyone. Or, there will be less people around to clear. The explosion of growth and dollars to defense contractors couldn’t continue indefinitely (military spending was $331 billion in 2003 and jumped to $721 billion in 2011– according and OMB and Wikipedia). There will contraction and consolidation in defense contracting, IMO. And more and more defense spending will be go towards obligations. Just the pensions (not other obligations) for veterans was $54.6 billion of the 2012 budget and that will increase. When one looks at the numbers it is like Harry Markopolos looking over the numbers of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC.

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    One thing the govt doesn’t report is all the conversions from contractor to government service. The contractors are going away, but just being converted to government. Only the government can get away with strong-arm tactics like this and steal employees.

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    One part of the sf86, which should be rewritten and made more explicit, is question 19. This phrase, “bound by affection, influence, common interests, and/or obligation” is about as clear as mud to most applicants.

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    I’m pretty sure it’s meant to be ambiguous, although I’m not sure that makes much sense. Really it all hinges on what your definition of the word “bound” is.

    People ask me what that question is supposed to mean during interview all the time, and all I do is either tell it means whatever they think it means or (more often), I just read the question again slowly and exaggerate the word BOUND.

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    Doesn’t matter what you answer, we will beat any dead-horse we can as we are instructed?????????????????

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    So was this job so different under DSS?

    Wasn’t the sf-86 the same? Were the coverage requirements the same?

    I’ve heard the report writing was much more streamlined so what’s the reason for the change? Was it OPM or DoD?

    Chime in old timers! I’ve only been around since like 2004 when OPM first did the wave of hiring.

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    I started in 2004, but have been cleared since 1984. Seemed to me the investigations were a bit more unstructured, in a sense that you were not asked alot of redundant questions. There use to be a day when folks had to complete their questionnaires accurately and didn’t pawn-off things to the investigator. I know when I was active duty–if I had even 1 mistake, I was told to fix it and if need be–do it over until it was correct. I had to fill many out after my work shift and nobody cared if it took 5 hours, it was our job/duty. Things have not changed for the better.

  68. Avatar

    One part of the sf86, which should be rewritten and made more explicit, is question 19. This phrase, “bound by affection, influence, common interests, and/or obligation” is about as clear as mud to most applicants.

    Just to give you a small sample of the “through the looking glass” absurdity of the foreign national issue. I had a SPIN for an American-born engineer at defense contractor who have listed two contacts with a representative of the Canadian government for a U.S. government project. While there I saw/heard an employee speaking Mandarin (presumably) on the phone for 5 minutes before the interview. Afterwards another Chinese-American employee was at her cubicle talking with her in Mandarin. I won’t presume anything, but I see this kind of stuff everyday, all day. Not to mention all the SPINs for foreign national recruits into the U.S. military. How do I phrase all those loyalty to the U.S. questions for non Americans?

  69. Avatar

    Fed Investigator,
    I guess I qualify as an old timer. I filled out my first Statement of Personal History (DD398) in 1968 for an EBI. It was the 1964 version of the form and was 4 pages long. The 1981 version of the DD398 was reduced to 3 pages, but the 1990 version went back to 4 pages. I don’t remember version 1 of the Electronic Personnel Security Questionnaire (EPSQ), but version 2 (1999) was 7 to 8 pages and based on the SF86. In all fairness, the EPSQ printed out in very small font with very little white space. My first experience with the e-QIP version of the SF86 was in 2005. Mine was 29 printed pages.

    When I first learned to do background investigations for the Army, we gave a confidentiality advisement at the end of every reference interview. We told every source that their identity and the information they provided would be treated as confidential, and we asked that they not disclose to others what was discussed during the interview. Of course that completely changed in 1974 with the Privacy Act.

    I first encountered the DIS investigative manual in 1974. It was less than a half inch thick—perhaps 150 printed pages or less. Back then all Subject Interviews (SIs) were issue-oriented, many were confrontational, and almost all required a sworn statement. You can’t write very much in a manual on how to conduct issue-oriented SIs—just cover the basic interrogatives and think like an investigator. The IBI (Interview Oriented Background Investigation) didn’t appear until the early 1980’s. The IBI and SBI (which didn’t not include a routine SI) eventually morphed into the SSBI in late 1991. During the SSBI SI as a DIS agent in the early 1990’s, you went over residences, schools, and employment to make sure there were no gaps and that everything was logical (i.e. employment and school within commuting distance of residence). You asked about prior federal/military service and investigations. If there was anything unusual about family/associates, you asked whatever was necessary to understand the situation. You covered all issue areas (loyalty to the US, alcohol, drugs, finances, gambling, arrests, mental health, foreign connections, etc.) with threshold questions. You also asked some CI threshold questions. There were some catch-all questions designed to elicit information about any unreported misconduct at work, school, or residence or vulnerability to blackmail. Aside from the intro, the SI was as structure or as unstructured as you wanted to do it; you just had to cover everything at some point in the SI. I usually spent about 5 to 10 minutes after the intro (ID, PA, purpose) to break the ice and ask some broad questions about Subject’s current situation and personal history.

    Dealing with a 4 page form was great. You could quickly pick out any problem areas, thus allowing you to focus on the Subject instead of the form. Even though it was twice as long as the DD398, I learned to deal with the EPSQ. I also like FIMS/CCMS, the computer systems for writing reports and managing cases. An DIS agent could write (off line) one Action Lead Sheet (ALS) to multiple addressees, explaining the situation and assigning a different investigative action to each addressee. You transmitted the ALS by computer to the Center and that was it. It took less time to send an ALS to 4 addressees than it took to do one extension in PIPS. ALSs and ROIs were done in MS Word with auto-correct and the other tools for transforming one or two key strokes into canned phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. I hope you all are using a decent interface for report writing in PIPS. When I left in 2007 all we had was a kludgy text editor.

  70. Avatar

    Man, y’all are really old.

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    Wow, 4 pages?! Reports in MS Word?! It seems the whole SI process has devolved in the past 30 years– particularly in the last couple.

  72. Avatar

    Is that old DIS investigative manual online anywhere? Our manual is three times that size and half the info is no longer applicable (correct).

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    Thank you! That is really interesting information! I appreciate you taking the time to go through all that.

    We’re still using the clunky text input and you should see this mess of afield work system they’re making us move too. It’s simply awful, I can’t believe they think it’s a good idea. There’s about an email a week letting us know of some new problem with it. It’s going to make the reporting process ten times worse.

    I wish we could go back to a more issued focused investigation, it seems the logical way to go nut what do I know?

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    We have so many young, tech savvy kids out there–they need to tap into their minds for new systems.

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    And these kids can spell “but” correctly as well 🙂

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    I ain’t got time to bleed!

    Or type correctly.

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    I believe the security clearance system is flawed. First of all, how can the security officer and the adjudicator be the same person making decision if you should keep or lose your clearance? Another factor is certain agency have the authority to conduct their own investigation and subjectively decide if you retain your clearance even if you provided compelling evidence to the contrary. I also found the appeal process flawed as for one agency, the security officer is also the adjudicator and subsequently the appeal board member who decide the final outcome. Clearly due process is not applied and many innocent people are being denied clearance based on cronyism of status connection in this organization. All security clearance should be adjudicated by an impartial panel with clear rules. Yes, I agree, if you completed your last five SF 86 and listed your children but on the last one you failed to list one or two of your adult children, you have committed a “serious security violation” even if you other three subsequently listed all your children. If the security officer wants to revoke your clearance, they will use any excuse to do so in the name of National Security regardless you have been defending national security for the past 30 years. Who oversees Security Clearance when someone is wronged? Who can you write to for an impartial investigation?

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    Nope, just been reflecting on things lately.

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    I have a question regarding my clearance and adjudication. Could I seek guidance on this website? and where?

  80. Avatar

    I appreciate everyone’s thoughts on here, but what I really can’t stand is how specialized these jobs are. It is very difficult to figure out what jobs to go to when you leave being an Agent or a Reviewer. We all have great skills, but where do you go after you get sick and tired of being an Agent? What types of jobs are out there and available that the skills of being an Agent/Reviewer translate to?

  81. Avatar


    If you ask it, they will come.

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    If you need private assistance, go to the home page and read under Security Clearance Q & A at the top of the page.

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    Got an interesting email forwarded to me by a government security person I deal with on site a lot. Essentially it looks like within the Navy they are being told not to submit SSBI-PRs and requests for expedited investigations until after Sept 30 2013 unless it is mission critical. It supposedly applies to contract personnel as well but have yet to see our reps release anything in regards to it. If you submit a SSBI-PR evidently OPM will auto reject, you are still able to do PPRs right now. The reason being given is due to budget changes within the government. Not sure what to make of it, but interesting to say the least. Also evidently a similar email is going around the Air Force.

  84. Avatar

    Average FSO–

    It’s fact, I’ve seen the memo’s on both. Started about a month or so back. It will filter to contract folks as well who contract directly on USAF and Navy contracts.

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    So that means no Navy/USAF SSBI-PRs and no PRT cases of any type, or just not PRT SSBI-PRs?

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    I never thought it was fake or anything like that, just interesting to see how long it filters to contractors. Even more interesting will be to see how many FSOs pay attention to it versus how many ignore it then are confused when OPM rejects their SSBI-PRs.

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    Initial cases will go forward. The only PR’s halted are for non-critical positions as deemed by depts. The slow down will not be that dramatic, depending on where you are. Most USAF and Navy folks with TS or TS/SCI are usually deemed as mission critical.

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    Darrow—disregard. Meant to address Very Special.

    Special also the PRT’s are almost always mission critical.

  89. Avatar

    Uh oh BW, you don’t know who you’re talking to anymore.

    First sign you’re losing it.

  90. Avatar

    Uh oh BW, you don’t know who you’re talking to anymore.

    First sign you’re losing it.

    This sounds likes me interviewing personal sources.

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    Ok Darrow and Special, William and Investigator

    I know exactly whom I talking to.

    I always feel like somebody’s watching me.

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    Have any of you ever not checked the case papers closely and referred to subject by the wrong sex? Like when talking to a source about a male subject and refer to subject as she?

    I mean if none of you have, I haven’t either. Just kidding. Haha

  93. Avatar

    I’ve had a few that I wasn’t sure of the sex in the interview. Reminded me of the PAT skit on SNL.

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    Hahahaha. I always try to remember to double check the sex on the paperwork. Mostly with some of the foreign names when I am only responsible for the sources.

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    Have any of you ever not checked the case papers closely and referred to subject by the wrong sex? Like when talking to a source about a male subject and refer to subject as she?

    I mean if none of you have, I haven’t either. Just kidding. Haha

    Yep, been there… a lot. In these interviews it is awkward phrasing until the source offers up a pronoun and then I can concentrate on what the source is telling me.

  96. Avatar

    I have had Subjects who are in same-sex marriages and previously had an opposite-sex marriage that I knew nothing about. There is one that is too bizarre to post here because I’m sure it is unique (PII). I have had Subjects who had sex change operations and found about it when the source used different gender pronouns when discribing the history of their friendship. They must have thought I was a crackerjack investigator when hearing this I tilted my head and said, “Excuse me?”

  97. Avatar

    Darrow, now that’s some good stuff!

  98. Avatar

    Just got word our company is implementing a SOP for all OPM ROIs effective 04/01/13.

  99. Avatar


    Just got word our company is implementing a SOP for all OPM ROIs effective 04/01/13.

    What does this mean? Good? Bad?

    I am still waiting to hear about the new changes Fed alluded to.

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    Wow, what a great idea, a SOP. It only took them about 13 years to figure out their should be some sort of plan. 🙂

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    Knowing the company, I can only assume (I know ASS-U-ME) that the SOP has been developed by Review to make their jobs easier and the template for the ROI will cover every doomsday scenario their committees of TL & FI that never left Grove City have thought up. The FI will now have to include dozens of disclaimers from some checklist or include language that will answer any question a reviewer can think of, even though neither is really required by OPM. Review tries to reinvent the wheel every other week and force a simple ROI into ten different shaped holes.
    Now the FI will have a ROI three times as long as his old one that was perfectly fine until this SOP and Review will have an easier time of finding some reason to reopen a case because it did not meet the SOP, regardless if it meets OPM guidelines.

    Review – thats why God invented scotch.

  102. Avatar

    A “highlight” of the new ROI SOP will be mandatory headers (which I recall I beleive Fed mentioning a few months back). It is suppose to be “user friendly” (yet it doesn’t say who the “user” will be). This new SOP will be standard so the testimony will flow. I agree with NY Inv it will be easier for review and not the investigators. I have typed the same way for 10 years and now will have to train myself in this new way of typing. It is going to suck!!

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    Probably the headers for sure. I think June first was the deadline were supposed to be using them by. I’ve been using them for a month or two now. They don’t shorten the ROI at only makes it easier for the end user. It’s not hard, you can use the same headers that are on the sf-86, i.e. RESIDENCE, EMPLOYMENT, FOREIGN TRAVEL. Also the most important header you will need, “ADDITIONAL INFORMATION,” for all the misc., crap from sources.

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    The memos regarding suspension of SSBI-PRs and PPRs by the Air Force and Navy are posted at and at

    These memos shouldn’t affect contractors, since most contractor investigations are funded by DSS rather than the military services. I suspect that DSS and Army will be publishing similar memos in the near future. Of course DSS could just wait until they run out of money and stop doing background investigations like they did a few years ago.

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    The Army is set to release theirs as soon as they get a new box of crayons to write the memo 🙂

  106. Avatar

    And then you get a defense contractor division with the ‘let’s get TS for (almost) everyone even if they don’t need it’ approach. Doesn’t cost them anything, unfortunately.

  107. Avatar

    I had a clearance from 2010 to oct 2012. Something triggers a revocation but no one would tell me why..after 4 months of being frustrated I finally sent an email to the inspector general and my congressman. The inspector generals office was helpful, in that I was told I could get my complete file sent to me. It took and 30 days for this. Since I’m not an adjudicator I cannot tell what was wrong…then I found the las page of a police report that said I was on parole hold..I have no police record at all and called the department who said it was a clerical error on their part. I sent to Doha but they said it might not be then I looked at my finances…which in 2010 was not great, but now my debt is paid up. How can I know for sure what could have triggered the revocation..and how long can it take these fols to clear a clerical error?

  108. Avatar


    I am joining the military as a foreign national and I will be subjected to SSBI. Would you mind to tell me if there is anything I need to watch out for when filling out SF86?

  109. Avatar

    Why Top Secret/ SCI takes almost two years?????? No one is saying anything more than they are waiting for polygraph schedule….. Frustrated beyond word.

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    I just want to know if it is that much work that it is taking that long? I have my Secret clearance already? All the jobs offered to me needs TOP SECRET and I’m waiting with too much anguish and frustration??? Please help anyone!!