Security Clearance Denial

These Two Questions Cause the Most Trouble On Background Investigations

There are two topics during background investigation processing that cause the most problems for applicants: failure to disclose criminal history and how you left a previous employment. The Standard Form 85, 85-P or 86 (used for all investigation levels also require submission of the OF-306 (Declaration for Federal Employment). There are key differences in what is asked on these forms. The SF-85 does not ask about criminal history or how you left employment at all. The SF-85P asks about arrests, convictions, probation, parole, or imprisonment in the last 7 years, as well as employment terminations and discipline or counseling. The SF-86 asks the same for both but has EVER questions. The OF-306 asks only for convictions, probation, parole, or imprisonment and employment terminations in the last 5 years.

One of the most common mistakes background investigation applicants make is not carefully reading the criminal history questions and answering correctly. This causes the appearance of dishonesty and lack of candor. Too many applicants also play armchair lawyer and use semantics with the wording of arrests and court records instead of just disclosing the arrest, subsequent pleas and court dispositions. This gives adjudicators pause in order to decipher what really happened and the applicant’s intent.

The other question that causes extra scrutiny and a large amount of denials are the questions about how you left a previous employment. For some reason many applicants can’t face the fact they were terminated for whatever reason and instead, paint a rosy picture (better job or pay, career progression), instead of just being up front about attendance issues, conflicts, performances, etc. Ironically, most of the issues applicants fail to disclose are not that serious and would have been mitigated. My advice to all is to take ownership of your past behaviors, put them behind you, and disclose all so there no reason to doubt your honesty and integrity.


  1. This says the OF-306 asks only for convictions, probation, parole, or imprisonment and employment terminations in the last 5 years. I got told I ommited my arrest on the OF-306
    which did not result in a conviction since it got dismissed and that was problematic.

  2. Unfortunately, some view “imprisonment” as arrested. Not saying they’re right. The real problem is the fingerprint report will show the arrest and criminal conduct (even if not convicted) can be a disqualifying condition under HSPD-12 standards. I would always answer that question as yes and explain in great detail in block 16 of the OF306. It’s unfortunate, because most in your shoes would answer the question the same way and half the time it would not be an issue. Working with HSPD-12 (T1 level investigations) daily is the only way I learned this could potentially be an issue.

  3. Thanks for the input. I gave them my explanation on Nov. 22 and waiting to hear back. Why is it that the T1 investigation are done differently where some would be ok and then some would have an issue with it?

  4. It’s a lower level investigation with fewer questions leaving more to interpretation.

  5. There have been more than one report on these forums of people who resigned a job only to learn that the former employer told a security investigator that they had been terminated. I have personal knowledge of at least one person whose former employer actually filed a security violation against them after they left. What is an applicant supposed to say about this? I suppose if they can show that they left Company A on a Friday and started with Company B the following Monday that would go a long way toward strengthening their case.

  6. Hello. Thank You for offering this forum to answer concerns.

    My question regards what is probably a common scenario, unfortunately I could not find it (I’m new).

    I was arrested 8/2017 for Battery DV. I was not charged and the case was Nolle Prosequi.

    Obviously I would need to report that event for an SF-85P and certainly for an SF-86.

    The position is actually a voluntary Docent position, but I was hoping to use the access to help network for other positions that might lead to a career requiring an SF-86.

    What is the probability for denial of the SF-85 or 86 in your opinion?

    Is an arrest an automatic disqualifier even with Nolle Prosequi?

    Thank You.

  7. No, it does not automatically disqualify. The circumstances involved and reason for the charges to get dismissed are looked at, along with any previous history, but the arrest itself is minor and not likely to cause any concerns since it happened over three years ago.