Advice for prospective political appointees: Get an early start filling out security and financial disclosure forms

August 2, 2020

By Tina Sung

This post is part of the Partnership’s Ready to Serve series. Ready to Serve is a centralized resource for people who aspire to serve in a presidential administration as a political appointee.

Every aspirant for a federal political appointment faces a chicken and egg problem. Should you begin working on your security and financial disclosure forms before you are offered a position or should you wait until you are offered a job? Does it seem presumptuous to fill out the forms too early? What if you never get an offer? Are you wasting your time?

At a minimum, one should become familiar with the forms. While you can’t complete and submit your information online until after you receive an offer, you can download or print the forms you will likely need, and begin filling out copies in advance of the election. If you wait until after the election to start the process of researching all your necessary personal and financial records, you may slow yourself down, and more importantly, you may be slowing down the administration you want to serve.

Filling out these forms can be tedious. Government experts estimate that it takes two to three hours to fill out the Questionnaire for National Security Positions (SF 86),  but in truth it will probably take much longer. This particular disclosure form is more than 100 pages. You will need to list every country you have visited for the past seven years (longer for certain positions). You will need to list every address you have had over the past seven years (again, possibly more), as well as contacts who knew you at each address. If you are appointed to one of the top positions in the government, you may need to go all the way back to when you were 18 years old. Don’t wait until the last minute – get a head start on this form.

What other forms should you prepare for in advance?

Unfortunately, there is not simple answer. The precise forms you need to fill out will depend on the type of position and the agency in which you will work. For example, even if you do not seek a position in an intelligence or national security-related agency, you likely will need to fill out the SF-86 if you are being considered for a Senate confirmed position.  Even thought you may not use a security clearance for such positions, the form (and the related FBI background investigation) will be part of the process.

Once you receive an official offer, either the White House or your hiring agency will confirm which forms you need to submit and give you the access to the online systems where you will input the information.

In an effort to make it simple, there are three types of forms:

  1. Background investigation and security clearance forms.
  2. Financial disclosure forms.
  3. Political and vetting forms.

There is no hard or fast rule. If you take a Cabinet or another very senior job, you should expect to fill out all of the forms – the SF-86, the SF-86 Supplement (which varies by administration), the Public Financial Disclosure Report (OGE Form 278e) plus White House and Senate questionnaires. Visit Ready-to-Serve.org for examples of these documents.

If you take a more junior, less sensitive position, you might not have to fill out the SF-86 or OGE Form 278e. Instead, you will likely need to fill out the Questionnaire for Public Trust Positions (SF 85P) and the Confidential Financial Disclosure Report (Form OGE 450), which does not require public disclosure of your personal financial information.

Sound hard? It is a bit of work, but tens of thousands of appointees have successfully prepared these forms in the past. The key is to get ready – and plan ahead. This website will help you be Ready-to-Serve.org.

Tina Sung is a Partnership for Public Service vice president who brings together and champions government leaders at the highest levels of the executive branch to maximize their impact and success in government.