Obtaining Security Clearance

Steps You Can Take to Help Speed Up Your Background Investigation

Security clearance reform over the past few years have helped lower the length of time it takes to complete the required national security background investigation. Latest metrics published by the Defense Security and Counterintelligence Agency (DCSA) show Tier 5 investigations for Top Secret taking an average 100 days or less to complete and Tier 3 investigations for Secret taking an average of 74 or less days to complete. Keep in mind these numbers do not include the adjudication times. Helping investigators and adjudicators see the big picture by being totally forthright and providing as much detailed information as possible will get you over the finish line quicker.  Here are some things you, as the applicant, can do to help your background investigation keep moving and not get hung up in speed traps.

  1. Track where you travel—Extensive travel outside of the United States can lengthen the security clearance process. You must report all travel outside the U.S. unless travel was required for U.S. government business. Keep records of the day, month and year when you began and ended all trips.
  2. Document addresses and contact information of the landlord for places you stayed more than 90 days. Keeping track as you go will assist in accurately recounting these details when required.
  3. Remember your contacts—You will need to report all interactions with non-US citizens (foreign nationals). If you have an extensive network of foreign national acquaintances, focus on those with whom you have had the closest ties or interaction with over the last seven years.
  4. Do not use illegal drugs, including marijuana. While legal in several states, marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Do not misuse legal or prescription drugs.
  5. Understand your financial situation—We understand you may have debt related to your education, living expenses, etc. However, we may view considerable debt as a vulnerability that could be used against you by foreign adversaries. Review your finances and credit score. Take responsibility for your legal debts. Do not wait until after you have filled out the SF-86 to take actions in resolving delinquent debts. Make sure you are up-to-date with federal, state, property and other taxes. If you have ever filed for bankruptcy, we will need the details, including the docket or case number.
  6. Safeguard your social media—Online relationships matter just as much as interpersonal ones. Establish strict online settings; do not include your address, date of birth or other personally identifiable information in a profile. Do not download files illegally and think before you post. While privacy settings are not foolproof, they can help to reduce your online exposure.


    1. Meet your neighbors. When asked to provide someone who knew you at the provided residence, we want a neighbor, someone who could see your house from their house (i.e. next door, across the street, diagonal)

    2. People who know you well: this is SOCIAL references. Someone you see socially, not just at work. Preferably social contact in person at least monthly.

    3. Keep employment contacts. Not only do we need to interview your supervisor but coworkers as well. Save those contacts when you changes jobs. If you have an HR contact, save that as well.

    4. When listing a naturalized relative the document number you need to list is the INS Reg No. On the Certificate of Naturalization on the top right side there is a certificate number and directly under that there is a INS Reg No which normally starts with an “A” that is the number you need to list.

    5. Answer all questions to the best of your ability. If you are able to get the information requested, do your homework and get the informations. The more complete and accurate the form, the easier and quicker the process. Leaving something blank or marking “I don’t know” slows the process.

    6. Ensure all references used in EACH section have updated contact information. References should know they are references. When we call them it should NOT be news to them that we have their phone number, this leads to uncooperative sources and longer investigations.

    7. Only list the information requested! If you are asked to list 10 years of residences do NOT list 20 years. This causes additional work. When updating SF86 remove unnecessary information. Read questions carefully to determine coverage dates as different questions may require different timeframes.

  1. Most of these can be broken down into simply “read the question carefully, and only list what is required,” but here are some examples:

    1. Even if you let people know you are listing them as a reference (in any section, not just specifically the References section), when you get called for your interview, that is your signal that your case is being actively worked. Reach out to those people again and remind them. A lot of times, people forget, or only have a vague memory of you telling them they were listed that they were a reference.

    2. For foreign nationals, remember, the question says close or CONTINUING contact. So even if you don’t feel particularly close to your friends or relatives who live in another country, but you call them on birthdays and holidays, or chat with them periodically on WhatsApp (even for mundane things like sharing memes), that’s still CONTINUING contact. List them. On the flip side, please do not list every foreign National you have ever spoken to if they do not fit the criteria. I have seen quite a few cases where people list some random person that they bought something from on EBAY once and never spoke to again.

    3. When we ask you who is aware of a situation (drug use, foreign contacts, financial issues, etc), please don’t give us vague answers like, “all of my references,” and assume those people are aware. Really take the time to think about it and provide us with valid contact information for people who can corroborate what you put on the security questionnaire or told us in the interview. People may be aware that you were born in a foreign country, but that doesn’t mean that they are necessarily aware that you had a foreign passport at one point to get to the US.

    4. For residences, we want to know where you were physically located and during what specific dates. Don’t just list your residence of record (your parents house on your drivers license) if you moved all over the place for the military or lived away from home for college.

    5. If you were unemployed, PLEASE do not list some made up job because you think being unemployed is unfavorable. Doing odd jobs around the neighborhood for cash is not a verifiable job, and it takes a considerable amount of work to sift through these listed “self-employments” that do not exist. The investigator will ask you how you financially supported yourself while unemployed, and that is your time to explain about walking your friend’s dog or cutting lawns in the neighborhood for some extra money, but listing “Bob’s Car Wash” as a self employment when that is not a registered business will only slow everything down.

  2. Great feedback everyone, keep’em coming.

  3. If you can’t find your immediate relatives US naturalization certificate number you can provide their US passport number as an alternative to their proof of citizenship.

    If you don’t think anyone is going to remember with absolute certainty that you ate a magic mushroom 4 years ago at a party, just say no one knows or is going to remember my magic mushroom consumption.

    If you are friends with a married couple you list each individual for different verifies.

    Learn the meaning of self employment.

    Your employer is the company that pays your pacychecke

  4. If you contest something that was posted on your credit report, realize that report will show a line item stating: consumer disputes information.

    That phase will cause flags if the information being disputed is of a derogatory nature and you did not report it: example- $500 collection from Xfinity for an equipment return issue. No matter the cause or outcome, when answering those financial questions, such details like a collection would require a positive response.

    Pretending derogatory financial information doesn’t exist or apply because that info was disputed will not set you free from the reporting requirement. That phrase shows the consumer was at the very least aware of derogatory information and not reporting it adds an honesty issue to your situation.

  5. @Typographical_Error remember Section 19 has to meet the criteria of close and/or continuing contact to whom you are “bound” (or tied) by affection, influence, or obligation. Both of those have to be met to meet the criteria of a foreign contact. The bound part has to be met and not just close and/or continuing contact with a foreigner.

  6. Debt showing charge off does not mean you resolved the debt. Lolz.

    Alcohol, drug and felony questions are ‘ever’ questions, timeframe does not stop at your 18th birthday.

    List your high school diploma.

    Figure out the date your divorce was granted.

    List your foreign relative’s employment, especially if you live with them, I mean come on.

    Marijuana is federally illegal even though it is legal in your state, don’t make me explain basic civics to you, I don’t get enough EMH for that.