Suggestions for the Background Investigation process

In 2010, I submitted a suggestion to help Subject’s submit a better questionnaire. The suggestion was dismissed because the 2010 SF 86 was supposed to cure all submission problems.

The issue with the security questionnaire is the complexity of the questions and process. A regular person reading the security questionnaire once every five years does not have the time or desire to learn how to fill out the questionnaire.

We have another complex submission that almost every adult American has to do each year. Income tax submission. I argue that your security questionnaire submission and income tax reporting processes have shared issues in common.

How does the IRS get citizens (Subjects) to correctly submit complex forms in a timely manner? There are tax accountants, tax lawyers, and tax preparation businesses. There is also computer guided tax programs.

What if the Federal government allowed Intuit (or others) to create a user friendly security questionnaire program? A program that would ask you questions and help you prepare your questionnaire on your computer, before submission. The program could “audit” your form and ask you corrective questions, such as, “you lived in Iowa but work in Iraq from 2015 to 2016. Is this correct?” The Subject could make all the corrections before the submission.

This product would save the government money even if the product never went to the general public but was allowed by contractor companies and large federal agencies to buy/license. Subject interviews would be shorter and hopefully current contact information would be accurate. Marketing the program by the third party company would allow experts to build the program without the government having to fund the program.

Even if the product was only commercially available, Subjects and companies in the know would spend the money to have a quick, complete, security questionnaire created.

One argument I’ve seen is the electronic submission from a private computer to the government system not being secure. This has been worked out before, (see the IRS system) but accuracy would improve even if the Subject printed their responses then input the information into the government system manually. Also, the Subject would have their information on their computer - for updates whenever needed.

The second argument I’ve seen is that people will still lie on their forms. I counter that this will help us identify people who intentionally falsify versus the Subject mistakenly falsifies their submission.

That is two cents worth. Does anyone else have any workable suggestions?


I was thinking somewhere along the line where interviews such as Subject Interviews or reference checks can be done via a video conference as alternate. I can imagine that this will save considerably cost and time.

When has the government ever been about saving money, LOL!?

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“Reference” checks can be done by telephone as long as certain conditions don’t exist. The problem is people still list their best friend from 10 years ago, who has not seen in person, or seen once a year, that doesn’t fulfill the various requirements for the investigation.

Also, there is the distraction issue. Telephone interviews with Sources always take longer because of distractions and the “sorry, what did you say?” delays.

Subject interviews can be conducted over secure VTC in certain conditions. The issue is security. Would you want to do your ESI over the internet knowing the bad people could be monitoring because your VPN was cracked.

Using an input process that was holistic (Turbotax for example) versus linear (PIPS) would give you the Subject the chance to input the data we need the first time. A clean ESI, meaning, no issues and the paperwork filled out fairly well, only lasts 50 to 60 minutes. I’ve done too many T3 Subject interviews where I had 10 page of notes for missing/corrected information (about 2 hours worth) and only two to three pages for the issue was sent to talk about. T4 and T5 Subject interviews are normally no better.

I appreciate, and know, the local companies and organizations that take the time to help their folks fill out the questionnaires - those Subject interviews fly by.

Security will always be an issue; nonetheless, agencies do have secure weblinks/webpages that secure video chats regardless if the participants have existing VPN or not.

And those could be authorized.

You still need an agent/investigator available with a Subject available to complete the interview. This is one of the issues.

I don’t mean to sound dismissive. VTC is a useful idea and can be used in remote locations where there are no investigators… This can be authorized under certain conditions.

An agent would still need to travel to your current employer for records and Source interviews - so why not do the bulk of Subject interviews in person at your employment? This is one reason your Subject interview is scheduled to the location you list as your most recent job location. This is also why listing someone that wants to hire you as your current employer adds to the problem.

Only in favor of VTC or electronic comms as a last resort or for lower tiered cases. I’m sure you would agree human interaction is vital for several instances, especially the Subject interview

How about this idea? Once the ESI/TESI/SPIN has been assigned to an investigator, PIPS generates an automatic email to the Subject giving the investigator’s name and work phone number (this information is already in PIPS). Then the Subject and the investigator would be looking for each other at the same time? Would this be helpful or cause more headaches for the investigator?

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I agree with you- security questionnaire submission is the weakest points in the BI process. My experience rs is that most agencies/companies/military units make the FSO/Security Manager an additional duty - or a full time job with minimal training about the questionnaires.

Who should be doing the face to face? The requesting agency should be doing this task not NBIB.

NBIB offers basic information about completing the questionnaire on their website. Please realize, we are providing an investigation service to the federal government and our funding is from these other agencies. Sadly, we are not compensated by the other Agencies for doing the FSO/Security Managers’ (and Subject’s) job to complete the questionnaire. Another background investigation point is that the Subject’s case is annotated for honesty issues when the form is missing any required information.

The agencies need to be doing this training with their FSO/Security Managers (and Subjects). All of the personnel at NBIB would not man a normal Air Force fighter wing. DoD has training classes on personnel security for their security managers, S-2s, and other intelligence personnel.

An idea might be for units or Agencies to hold a regular briefing for Subjects preparing to submit their security questionnaires. Just like most Agencies have briefings for PCS movements, overseas travels, safety, and other events.

As a disclaimer, I have found many FSO/Security Managers who have taken the time to learn about the questionnaires, ask me questions about the forms and process, and even download for use reference materials I have suggested,such as the Adjudicators Desktop Reference published by DSS and freely provided in the public domain (or a $10 download from Amazon).

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I think this is a great idea. I think it would also be helpful for investigators if the requesting agencies were required to provide automatic updates on their pending investigations; maybe quarterly? Current location, deployments, contact information, case discontinues, etc. I work in an area where I’m constantly rescheduling cases or requesting discontinues. I think if requesting agencies were more vested in the process after submission, it would help alleviate some of the time investigators spend trying to track their Subject’s down or getting the case to the right area.

That would be great. They are supposed to do this already but there is no one office required to do so. Simply letting us know when someone was discharged or no longer interested in the position would be helpful.


How about an email generated from PIPS when the case is accepted by NBIB, the Subject interview (or any subsequent Subject interviews/Contacts) are scheduled, when a case is coded fieldwork finished, and when a case is released to the requesting Agency. These are major milestones in the fieldwork process and would not degrade the investigation confidentiality.

Any other ideas?

I agree with this statement 100 precentw. Even a digital manuel that breaks down each section wouldbe great.

I suspect that part of the problem is that the more information provided to the applicant, the more questions the applicant will have. An update every step of the way could easily generate two or three phone calls from the applicant that then have to be answered and addressed. Giving the applicant chance to request to add information to the investigation process as it moves along could often put the process back into the investigation phase and prevent investigations from ever being completed.

So . . . Even if the updates are “automatic” as different steps are completed, they could generate extra work and longer completions.

Note to moderators: I edited this post and used the word “longer” at the end in place of the word “retarded” . . . “R E T A R D E D” is a legitimate work when properly used and should probably be allowed in forums . . . It’s a pain in the A$$ when you can’t use the correct words!

Ed is correct. I was just trying to see if that would help with the transparency of the process.

I rarely get follow up phone calls from the clean or “normal” issue cases. I normally get the phone calls from Subject’s angry that their issue laden case / poorly filled out questionnaire case is taking too long.

I also get the Subjects that ask me to help with their SOR responses. A little awkward and not allowed.


AWoodhull - you got your suggestion/wish granted. No one in the business believes that video conference interviews will end when COVID protocol ends The military and major contractors like the process too much.

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This whole personnel security process will not end well if they continue telephone into the foreseeable future. If they continue to streamline and automate, even personnel security folks will be let go in admin and adjudication with less and less investigations occurring.

Investigators won’t stick around and they’ll lose experienced Investigators. This will be a concern.

Then if the next Aaron Alexis or Snowden situation happens, they’ll want to revamp the process again. Then where will all of the experienced Investigators be located at if they have left the industry when they are ready to ramp up the clearance process?

And everyone fails to see that these agencies are not getting much of a bang for their buck with DCSA doing everything telephonically. The word I am hearing is that many agencies are unhappy with DCSA’s Jerry Lewis telethon approach. They are only getting away with it due to the circumstances of COVID-19. Once COVID is under control in another 6-9 months from now, there will be an expectation that most interviews should be done in person or more agencies will break away from DCSA and go to direct federal contracting. DCSA thinks that they will be here forever but it may not end well for them if they continue on their path of telephonic interviews.


DoD itself is our biggest customer and they like the video interviews. I don’t see the foot stomping that so many agents are doing over this medium. Myself, I see no difference between the video conference interview with Subjects versus in person. Subjects still sweat, pause, etc. I still uncover serious issues and develop reportable activities.

The Sources are my concern. I would be able to close cases quicker if I could just “shake the tree” versus leave phone, text, and/or email messages. There will be a compromise with Sources being done in person again - though many of the military like the ease of the video Source interview.

BTW, we are all subject to ODNI’s rules.

I’m getting used to sitting home in my jammies all day.