By Heather Samuelson

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.

The vetting process for senior presidential appointees can be opaque even for long-serving government officials. What an administration is looking for in a candidate is not always clear, and there’s always the fear of something disqualifying coming up during the process.

While the vetting process varies based on the administration and the position an individual is seeking, there are three key components for almost every political appointee. 

The security clearance process. All Senate confirmed roles, and a large number of non-Senate confirmed ones, require a security clearance.

The ethics clearance process. Jobseekers must complete a financial disclosure form that is reviewed by ethics officials to determine if their financial holdings conflict with the position they are seeking. In some cases, nominees may need to divest or place assets in a blind trust in order to assume the position.

Public records review and vetting interviews.  Administration officials, including the White House Office of Presidential Personnel, the White House Counsel’s Office and White House liaisons all have a role in the review process. 

During my time in the Obama administration, I oversaw the vetting of hundreds of appointees. Here is the advice I gave candidates before starting the process:

  1. Do your homework. The security clearance form (SF 86) and financial disclosure form (OGE 278e) can be found online. Review these forms early while you are still interviewing for the position. See if there are questions you are concerned about or if there is information that will be difficult to compile. If so, seek advice from PPO or the White House liaison.
  2. Disclose information early and truthfully. The vetting process is a two-way street. You have been selected for this role by the president, and the administration wants to see you succeed.  You should disclose anything you are concerned about early in the process, from that quirk in your taxes to any issues that may have landed you in court. Worse than failing to disclose, do not lie or gloss over difficult facts during the vetting process. The administration cannot help you if you don’t provide a full and accurate picture. Once you are nominated, the Senate, the press and the public will all do their jobs of reviewing your personal and professional record. At this point even seemingly small issues could become very public concerns for you and the administration.
  3. Be ready to answer questions about your personal and professional life. You will get asked detailed questions about your professional and personal life. Your finances will also be scrutinized. Some questions are designed to ensure you are not susceptible to blackmail. Others are to determine whether anything in your background could be disconcerting or embarrassing to you or to the administration.

Sometimes people who would be extraordinary public servants do not get through the vetting process.   It does not mean they are horrible people. It may be that their financial holdings caused too many conflicts for them to fully serve in the role, or that they had elements in their private life (or a close family member’s private life) they wanted to stay private.

The spotlight can be harsh for nominees and their loved ones. Making sure you and the administration can identify potential vulnerabilities before you are nominated is key—and why the vetting process exists.

Heather Samuelson serves as general counsel for the National Domestic Workers Alliance. She previously served as chief counsel for the Clinton-Kaine Transition Team, as an assistant counsel in President Obama’s White House and as White House liaison for the Department of State.

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 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

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.