THE DREADED FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SF-86 FORM

IT’S A BEAR AND NO ONE LIKES TO FILL IT OUT










But it happens to be the form that every single person who is a Federal Employee dealing with classified information or every contractor to the Federal Government who deals with classified information must complete.  Trust me, it’s not something that anyone would approach with the attitude “Hey, no big deal, right?”

But it is a big deal.  It’s long, it’s complicated, it’s confusing and in the midst of the three to five days filling it out you just want it to go away.  It requires that you list the addresses of where you’ve lived for the past ten years and where you’ve travelled during the past ten years (or is it seven?) and the names and addresses of your neighbors where you currently reside along with a whole raft of other minutiae that takes days to collect.  How the hell do you recall where you lived much less the addresses of where you lived 10 years ago?  The whole experience is frustrating, tedious, and an enormously huge pain in the ass.  But, necessary, as it turns out.   And it's over 100 pages long in its paper version. 

When I filled out my original SF-86 it was a paper form since the internet hadn’t actually come into being back then.  In my case there were innumerable erasures and white outs as I discovered new factual info during my research of my sketchy, shoebox trove of documents, containing my rather casual enshrinement of details of my past life adventures.  I’m not sure what “attitude” the Trump Minions had towards completing their SF-86’s, but for me it scared me to death.  I knew that if I screwed up it might end my quest for being able to work on classified projects for the State Department which had become the mainstay of my firm’s business. 

I did, in the end, receive my security clearance.  I was investigated by FBI agents (don’t’ know who does it now, possibly some at-home-keyboard-stroker under contract to the Office of Personnel Management or some other Federal Agency) but for me, when I was investigated  it was by the FBI.   By official FBI agents.  Towards the end of my investigation, a bulky FBI agent visited me in the office one day to discuss the results of his investigation which, by the way, included going around to my neighbor’s houses to question them about my integrity or honesty or whether or not I had exhibited any nefarious or traitorous activities.  Or took drugs or smoked pot.  At some point during his briefing, this is what he asked me:

“I have to say” said agent XXX, “I was deeply impressed about what your neighbors said about you.  They characterized you as a friendly, congenial and upright neighbor.  But what impressed me more than anything else, was the rave reviews you received from the kids in the neighborhood who knew you.  For some reason all the kids between 5 and 16 expressed an almost universal praise for your personality, kindness and integrity.  I have to ask, just for form’s sake, did you pay the kids to say nice things about you?”  

He laughed.  I laughed.  I told him that, yes, because of my daughter who was between the ages of 6 and 12 during those years, I had organized fishing expeditions down to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, block birthday parties and had rescued several skateboards that had disappeared into the bowels of the city’s storm water management system over the years.  Then, too, their were the impromptu bicycle, toy and skate repairs.    I plead guilty to all charges.  They were, in fact, all true.  But they were not paid praisers.  When agent "whatever his name" confronted me with these “charges” I knew that I was George on my security clearance. 

After I received my security clearance, I spent 20 years counseling my staff members on how to fill out the FS-86 form.  The one critical element that every single person I counseled in dealing with security clearance applications was this:  “Don’t leave anything out.”  The FBI gets suspicious when they discover events that you did not list on your application form.  Truer words have never been spoken.  Got an arrest for pot smoking 20 years ago? (It was the times.)  List it.  Your ex-wife filed a cease and desist order in the midst of your toxic divorce?  List it.  Been cited for failing to appear in court on a complaint by your neighbor about your dog shitting in their yard?  List it.  Nothing makes security investigators more suspicious than things that you did not list on your form but they have discovered while investigating you.  And they will find out.  They always do.  They do a very thorough job of researching local police and court records.  They are serious.  And they don’t play.

The other "Big Deal" was drug use.  "Even if" I would tell them, "you've never been arrested for pot use, but used, list it.  Sure you don't have to say that you toked five joints a day.  You can say that you were - or are- a "casual user."  I got many, many inquiries about this particular issue.  "I tell you this, because as the investigators go around interviewing your family, friends, neighbors and work mates, and if you've imbibed in their presence, you have absolutely no idea what they might say about you. That guy you whose girlfriend you stole out from under him?  Well he might see this as an opportunity to get some revenge."  No one on my staff - and I must have "guided" 40 or 50 folks through the process over the years, was ever denied a clearance.     

I was also caught in the Government’s transition from wholly paper forms to online SF-86 forms.  It was a disaster.  Somewhere during this transition period, one would get to page 11 of the SF-86 form and suddenly your computer would freeze and no amount of finagling, or manipulation, or prayer would prevent you form losing every single bit of info that you had already imparted to the SF-86.  That was a particularly difficult time since the hated from had become even more maniacal given the “glitches” that one faced when attempting to fill in the form in its online form.  This went on for several years while I was trying to get as many staff as I could endowed with security clearances to make sure that we had enough staff members who were cleared to work on projects we had that required that a Top Secret and Secret classified clearance.   

No one that I know of laughs off the SF-86 forms.  This particular Federal form is not something that one approaches with lightheartedness or with serendipity.  On the contrary.  The SF-86 is probably the most dreaded form that anyone can complete.  Not necessarily because of the information that the form asks for (that too, but this is a separate issue)  but because of the length and complexity of the information that the SF-86 form asks for.  In fact, we had been negotiating with a world famous architectural firm to joint venture with us on the new Embassy in London but they backed out when the discovered how onerous were the State Department's security requirements.

Which brings us back to the current Trump issue of his folks not fully revealing pertinent info on the SF-86 form.  I'm not sure what "excuse" one can posit for this common lack of thoroughness by Trump minions.  Temporary memory lapses?  Early onset Alzheimer's?  The dog ate..... never mind. The SF-86 asks questions that are quite transparent,  quite clear in what they ask.  Understanding the questions isn't the problem.  It's in the collecting of the requested information that's a bitch.  Off the top of our heads do we all know the address of that ratty, cockroach filled studio apartment that we lived in 10 years ago?   It's a giant pain in the ass.  But it's important. And here's what makes it important:

"I have read the instructions and I understand that if I withhold, misrepresent or falsify information on this form, I may be subject to the penalties for inaccurate or false statement (per U.S. Criminal Code, Title 18, Section 1001), denial or revocation of a security clearance, and/or debarment or removal from Federal Service." 

Now, how Manafort or Lewandowski or Flynn et al might have neglected to note outstanding loans by questionable banks, or meetings and associations with Russian diplomats under penalty of Federal Law, is odd.  I'm assuming that these folks are not stupid people - I could be wrong - but let's work with this assumption for the time being.  So why, one might ask, did they not fully reveal such information?  Well, this is no mystery.  Such entries in the SF-86 would have immediately set off alarm bells to the folks who are investigating them.  So how the hell could they have done this knowing that it could come back and bite them in the ass?

Here's my off-the-cuff explanation.  There is a running theme from Trump on down that bespeaks of a powerful contempt for all things government and an equally strong contempt for Federal employees.  They all - again from Trump on down - seem to think that Federal Government slugs are all dumb, lazy moochers just lolling around all day long in their offices playing video games and taking three hour lunch breaks.  Oh, and Trump slimed the NSA, the CIA and the FBI weveral times during his campaign.  And it's beginning to bite him in the ass now.  And, let's not forget that as late as today he called former FBI Director James Comey a lair and a criminal.  

So it would seem that with such a low level opinion of all things and all people Government, I'm guessing that all these folks simply assumed that given that all the Feds are sloppy, lazy, dumb and dense, that their omissions would never be caught.  This arrogance and contemptuousness for government - Bannon wants to de-construct the government - is rife with Trump and within the Trump Team.  Even today's pronouncements against Comey at his press conference were a singular example of this attitude.  It's what will do Trump Team in and maybe Trump himself.





Have A Great Day Everyone!  But Be Careful Out There in Trumpland! 





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