What Is The SF-86?

Security is an important aspect of any government’s plan because it helps safeguard the lives of the people.One way the United States government maintains security is by requiring that all its employees complete a questionnaire form. This form is known as Standard Form Questionnaire 86 or SF-86.

SF-86 is a questionnaire used by the United States Office of Personnel Management. It is an in-depth form that asks questions about an individual’s background, employment history, and personal life. The answers on the SF-86 help the government determine if an individual is a security risk.

As you can see, SF-86 is a very important part of national security. However, many individuals seeking positions at government agencies don’t know what SF-86 is and why it is important. In this article, we will discuss the importance of SF-86 forms and provide details about the process of completing them.

What Is SF-86?

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Standard Form Questionnaire 86, also known as SF-86, is a form issued by the United States Office of Personnel Management that is necessary for national security positions in the United States. This form can be used to conduct security clearance investigations for individuals who require access to classified information. The form is also used to determine an individual’s eligibility for access to other sensitive information or programs.

SF-86 forms are important because they help the government determine if an individual is a security risk. The answers on the SF-86 help to assess an individual’s character, employment history, and personal life.

Asides from citizens, military personnel, government contractors, and government employees must also fill out the form to receive a requisite security clearance.

The information needed in the SF-86 form includes any colleges or universities attended in the past three years, an account of the last ten years of the individual’s employment, ties and connection to foreign nationals and governments, overseas travel, a list of past residences or domiciled areas, and so on.

Important Steps In The Background Investigation Process

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The investigation takes several days, depending on the complexity of the security investigation requested. The SF-86 form is used to conduct a background investigation, including a credit check, criminal history check, and employment verification. Here are the important steps in the background investigation process:

Filling And Submitting Your SF-86

 The SF-86 form asks for a lot of personal information, so it is important to be truthful when answering the questions.

If you falsify information on your SF-86 application, you may be denied a security clearance or face other penalties. Your questionnaire should be meticulously examined and audited at this stage. We strongly recommend that you input accurate information so that your form will go through the system more easily.

Below are some tips for filling out your form:

  • Before submitting your SF-86, ensure to fill in all personal information like your spouses (and everyone you have and romantic nature with), in-laws, and your residential addresses for the last ten years.
  • But you are not required to list temporary locations of less than 90 days that did not serve as a permanent or mailing address and education before your 18th birthday unless it is needed for the two-year minimum education history.
  • You must include your employment history for the previous ten years, with no gaps.
  • If you’ve spent time in foreign countries, offer references who live in the United States now and can vouch for your overseas activities. The specifics of your overseas service and any training programs may be included in the continuation section of the SF-86.

Scheduling And Initiation

After submitting your SF-86, the next step is to schedule and initiate your investigation process. The SF-86 will be sent to the appropriate investigative service for processing.

Here, the findings of electronic record checks are scanned or transferred into the PIPS system, and scannable requests are also mailed to sources. PIPS allocates cases to field offices automatically. After your form passes this stage, it moves to the investigation stage.

PIPs, or Personnel Indicator Program System, is an FISD computer software system with 15 million background investigation records from federal employees, military personnel, and contractors. The software is used for the automated entry, scheduling, case-control, and closing of background investigations.


An investigative agency will contact you to schedule an interview. The interview is conducted by a trained FISD investigator who will ask you questions about your standard form 86 questionnaire.

You will also be asked to provide documents to support the information on your SF 86 form. The investigator will verify the information on your SF-86 form through interviews with you, your family, friends, employers, and other people who know you.

The contract investigator will also interview your supervisors, co-workers, neighbors, friends, and other people with whom you may have had close relationships.

Case Review

A Case Reviewer will review your investigation report once all investigative fieldwork has been completed and uploaded to FIPC. Also, the Case Reviewer will confirm that the investigation output complies with OPM’s official and legal criteria.

If there is any missing information, the case is returned to the investigators for correction. Your report is delivered to the asking agency if your case is deemed complete (your agency or prospective agency.)


This is the most important part of the security clearance process because it is the stage where a decision is made on your standard form 86.

At this stage, the adjudicating personnel will follow the 13 Department of Defense (DoD) adjudicative guidelines before deciding on your case. The 13 guidelines are:

  1. Allegiance to the United States
  2. Foreign Influence
  3. Foreign Preference
  4. Sexual Behavior
  5. Personal Conduct
  6. Financial Considerations
  7. Alcohol Consumption
  8. Drug Involvement
  9. Psychological Conditions
  10. Criminal Conduct
  11. Handling Protected Information
  12. Outside Activities
  13. Misuse of Information Technology

If you are found to have any of the above, it does not mean that you will be automatically disqualified for a security clearance.

For example, if you have financial problems, the adjudicator will look at the severity of your debt, how long you have been in debt, and whether or not you are making an effort to repay your debts.

This is why the OPM sets the guidelines into three important parts. They include:

The Concern

The Concern is a clear statement that expresses the security community’s reservations about each Adjudicative Guideline.

The Potentially Disqualifying Conditions

The Potentially Disqualifying Conditions are circumstances that could render them ineligible for eligibility or access if present in the applicant’s life.

The Mitigating Factors

Adjudicators employ the Mitigating Factors to balance the Potentially Disqualifying Conditions. If present in the applicant’s life, conditions may cancel or diminish the severity of the Potentially Disqualifying Conditions.

These aspects will balance the severity of the OPM adjudicative guidelines. The adjudicator will decide on your case after considering all of these.

The OPM has the final say on whether or not you will be granted a security clearance. If you are denied a security clearance, you have the right to appeal the decision.


Reciprocity is significant when SF-86 forms are processed. Reciprocity applies to all civilian employees of the federal government, members of the military, and contractors.

The reciprocity rule states that an individual’s new position cannot require higher eligibility than he or she currently possesses. For example, Personnel Security Investigations for DoD employees must be accepted reciprocally as long as the investigation is within the scope and the employee doesn’t have a break in Military service or Federal employment longer than 24 months.

This will ensure that people will be able to start their new jobs straight away, and taxpayer money will not be wasted on costly and needless investigations by their new agencies.

Why Is The Standard Form 86 Necessary?

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Standard form 86 is necessary to make sure that individuals who have access to classified information or work in certain sensitive positions are trustworthy. This ensures that these individuals will not misuse their power or position and put the United States at risk.

Classified information is any information that could reasonably be expected to cause damage to national security if it were to fall into the wrong hands. This includes information about the nation’s military, intelligence, and foreign relations. It also includes information about the nation’s critical infrastructure, such as its power grid and water supply.

Background investigations conducted during the SF-86 form’s clearance will also help identify any foreign influence that an individual may have. This is crucial because individuals with foreign connections may be more likely to engage in espionage or other activities that could harm the United States.

The SF-86 form is also used to screen people who work in certain sensitive positions at federal agencies. These positions include roles in the executive branch, such as presidential appointees, and positions in the intelligence community, such as members of the CIA.

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