Honesty is the Best Policy When it Comes to Security Clearance Forms

When filling out an SF86 form, you may face a steeper punishment than denial or revocation of your security clearance. A recent case highlights the repercussions dishonesty can create for federal employees who lie on this form.

The age-old adage told to you by your parents “honesty is always the best policy” rings true when filling out Standard Form 86 (SF86), which starts the process of obtaining a security clearance.

In deciding whether to grant, deny or revoke a security clearance, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) expects applicants to provide full and truthful answers. If you lie on this form, more often than not, that lie will be uncovered, and if it is, you may face a steeper punishment than denial or revocation of your security clearance.

The importance of being truthful on your SF86 was highlighted this month in a case involving two Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents.

David Polos, a retired official with the DEA and Glen Glover, a civilian DEA employee were convicted of omitting any reference to outside employment on their SF86 form. It just so happens that the employment they omitted consisted of ownership and management interests in The Twins Plus Go-Go Lounge, a strip club located in South Hackensack, N.J. and is staffed by many illegal immigrants.

Attorneys for Polos and Glover argued that their client’s interest in the club was an investment and not outside employment, and thus it was not necessary to disclose this information when the form asked the Applicants to “list all your employment activities,” whether “paid or unpaid.” The jury sided with the prosecution and after just three hours of deliberation convicted Polos and Glover of lying on their 2011 SF86 form.

If Polos and Glover had revealed their interest in the club during their national security background check, their security clearance almost certainly would have been denied due to the red flags this endeavor raises about their personal conduct, dishonesty, and lack of judgment but because they omitted this information both will lose their security clearances and face time in jail, if their lawyers cannot get their convictions overturned.

The decision of Polos and Glover to even have involvement with such an endeavor while simultaneously holding a security clearance raises personal conduct concerns, especially since evidence presented at the trial revealed that this club may also be a hub for prostitution. The lesson stands true; honesty really is the best policy.

The process to obtain a security clearance takes about six months from start to finish. After you fill out a SF86 form (hopefully with all truthful answers), it goes through an investigative process pursued by either the OPM or an outside agency contracted by the OPM. During this process the investigators will set up interviews, usually face-to-face, with the references you provided on the form. The investigators will then ask those references for two other people that know you and then have face-to-face interviews with those people as well.

Are you starting to see why it is important you provide both truthful and complete information on your SF86?

After the investigation is complete, your SF86 is adjudicated, or in other words, examined to determine if there are any issues that would make you a security threat. This adjudication is done by a process dubbed the “whole person concept.” This means that examiners will consider factors such as what information the Applicant voluntarily presented; the nature, extent and seriousness of the information presented; the frequency of any questionable conduct; the motivation for past conduct; and the likelihood of reoccurrence of the conduct, among others.

When examining an SF86, certain adjudicative guidelines direct the examiner’s focus. These factors include personal conduct, drug use, criminal conduct, and foreign preference, to name a few.

When looking at personal conduct, examiners are looking for conduct that involves questionable judgment, dishonesty or lack of candor. Providing false or misleading information, which is a subset of personal conduct, involves deliberately lying or leaving out information that would allow an investigator to see the full picture of your conduct.

More often than not if you are found to have deliberately lied about questionable conduct on your SF86, your security clearance will be denied or revoked, with little chance to mitigate that result.

For example, in DOHA Case No. 14-01234, an Applicant for a security clearance was served with a Statement of Reasons (SOR) detailing security concerns related to his personal conduct. As part of a June 2011 job interview, the Applicant disclosed to an investigator that he smoked marijuana three times per week while in college; but, during his interview in regard to obtaining a security clearance, the Applicant told the investigator he only smoked marijuana once in his life. Due to this blatant contradiction, the Applicant’s request for a security clearance was denied.

If the Applicant had been truthful about his drug use there is a chance his personal misconduct could have been mitigated, resulting in the grant of his security clearance. This is the result that was reached in a 2015 case where the Applicant disclosed his past drug use on his security clearance application. In DOHA Case No. 15-00234, the security clearance concerns related to his drug use were mitigated because he was a young college student when he engaged in the activity, disclosed this information on his SF86 voluntarily, and made a “conscious commitment to not use illegal drugs in the future.”

Applicants also get into trouble when they lie about possible foreign influence under Adjudicative Guideline B. Issues under this guideline usually arise when an Applicant has contact or a relationship with someone from a foreign country, which may garner considerable foreign influence over that Applicant.

This happened to David Polos, the DEA agent convicted this month. Polos was convicted of not disclosing his relationship with one of the Brazilian dancers who worked at The Twins Plus Go-Go Lounge.

If Polos had admitted to this relationship, it is possible that the security concern could have been mitigated. Unlike a 2015 case where a security clearance was denied to an Applicant because of the Applicant’s close ties to family members who lived in Afghanistan and were employed by Afghanistan’s government, Polos’ relationship was with someone from Brazil, a country with which the United States enjoys an ally-type relationship.

Moral of the story: omitting information, either intentionally or unintentionally, from your SF86 can result in a denial of your application, revocation of your security clearance, or in extreme circumstances, jail time. If you are filling out an SF86 or are served with a Statement of Reasons, you should contact an experienced security clearance attorney to guide you through the process.

About the Author

Mathew B. Tully is a founding partner of Tully Rinckey PLLC. He concentrates his practice on representing federal government employees and military personnel. To schedule a meeting with one of the firm’s federal employment law attorneys call (202) 787-1900. The information in this column is not intended as legal advice.