Investigative Process

DoD personnel may be granted a security clearance or be assigned sensitive duties after a two-step process of investigation and adjudication.

Investigation involves the inquiry into the employee’s past to gather information to help determine whether he or she can be trusted with classified information or to perform sensitive duties.

Investigators may conduct checks in the following areas:
  • Financial
  • Criminal
  • Residences
  • Psychological
  • Foreign Travel
  • Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
  • Education
  • References
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  • Your employment history
  • Reference checks
  • Your military service record
  • Your police records (if any)
  • Drug and alcohol abuse (if any)

The amount of personal information you’re asked to provide depends on the level of security clearance for which you’re being nominated. Generally, you’ll be required to complete the same questionnaire for all security clearance levels. However, the type of security clearance you are nominated for will determine the depth of the investigative coverage into your background.
  • The investigation for a Top Secret clearance covers the last 7 to 10 years of your life.
  • For a Secret clearance, only the last 5 years are checked.
If adverse information surfaces, deeper investigation into your background may be warranted.


If you’ve filled one out before, it’s helpful to have a copy of the previous one to refer to. If it’s the first time you’re filling one out, it will help if you verify the addresses where you’ve lived and worked, and or have on hand the addresses and phone numbers of people such as former supervisors, references, or former roommates. You must provide accurate, complete, and honest answers to all of the questions on your security questionnaire. Incomplete or inaccurate information can delay your clearance because this information is required for processing your security clearance. False information is prohibited by law and punishable by fines and imprisonment. Remember, the information you provide will be verified during your investigation. If you have any questions about what to put in your security questionnaire, see or call your security officer, and then answer the questions to the best of your ability. If you doubt whether to provide certain information, it is always best to provide the information (and any clarification, if necessary). Your omission of adverse information may be interpreted by adjudicators as falsification of your security forms. That could cost you your clearance. Remember, when you sign your security forms, you are certifying completeness and accuracy under the penalty of prosecution.

The DSS Academy has a training video “Tips for e-QIP Submission.” This video includes 10 tips for completing the SF-86 via e-QIP and is intended to aid in successful submission of your application. This video can be accessed by the way of the DSS Academy home page
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