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Security clearance reporting process changes

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The Department of Defense instituted the Continuous Evaluation Program earlier this year, which changes reporting requirements for people with security clearances.

Prior to the program, background investigations for secret and top secret clearances were tied to static dates, every 10 and five years, respectively. While they still are now, clearances are reviewed on a continuous basis throughout the term of the clearance, which means people must report issues that may affect their clearance as they happen.

According to Frank Vigil, chief of information protection with the 50th Space Wing, the change is positive for not only safeguarding the nation’s secrets, but also streamlining the renewal process.

“Common sense said, ‘wait a minute, there’s a chance you’re doing bad things in between reviews that could affect your clearance, so why are we waiting 10 years to address it,’” Vigil said. “This also makes renewing clearances much faster down the road because we will have already mitigated concerns that turn out to be nonissues.”

Security clearance renewals start with filling out a Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions. Questions span 13 different adjudicative categories and range from criminal conduct to foreign travel.

“The purpose is for the Air Force to assess you as a whole person and determine if you’re loyal, reliable and trustworthy,” Vigil said. “After you answer those questions, you are interviewed so there is context to your answers. Just because you answer yes to a question that may sound bad, doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. Many times there are mitigating factors that allow us to say, ‘yes, they did that, but here’s why it’s not an issue.’”

While the program’s main focus is upward reporting from individuals, there is also a downward reporting component.

“If you have a security clearance, they can randomly run your social security number against a host of databases and find out if you did something negative,” Vigil said. “Examples include sudden and substantial changes in your credit or criminal convictions. We are already starting to see some of those reports. We then have to go to the individual and get them to mitigate the issue.”

According to Lisa Buhlinger, chief of industrial security with the 50th SW, the upward and downward reporting should drive home the criticality of self-reporting.

“It’s understandable that someone might not want to report something that could be construed negatively, but you’re only making it worse if you don’t because they will find out,” she said. “Our goal is to get out in front of these issues and help you address them so you don’t add a trustworthiness issue to your investigation.”

Vigil said it’s a good idea for people to periodically ask themselves, “If I had to accomplish my SF86 today, would any of my answers have changed since the last time?” He also suggested people ask, “Could someone without all the facts misconstrue an event in my life?”

“If you answer yes to those questions, not only is it mandatory you report, it’s in your best interest to do so,” he added.

According to Vigil, some of the common reasons people have for not wanting to report include: embarrassment, fear of losing their job, not knowing it’s a requirement, and thinking reporting means losing their clearance.

Vigil emphasized the point of the program is not to get people in trouble, but to help them avoid it.

“Please do not think reporting equals losing your clearance or job,” Vigil said. “That’s exactly what we don’t want. Think of it as speeding up the process of renewal when the time comes and keeping you out of trouble.”

Examples of things that should be reported include foreign contacts, overseas travel, arrests (even if not charged with an offence) and DUIs.

For questions about the new program and to report clearance concerns, Airmen are advised to contact their security manager.
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