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What are background checks and security clearances?

If hired for a federal job, you must at least go through a basic background check to make sure you're reliable, trustworthy, and suitable for the job. The background check process starts after you accept a job offer.

The hiring agency will ask you for the necessary personal information to start the background investigation process. The amount of information you'll need to give depends on the job.

Read the Background and security clearance section of the job announcement to see what security level is required. If you have questions about the background investigation process, contact the hiring agency for the job.

What type of information will I need to provide?

Regardless of the type of background check, you will at least need to answer questions about where you've lived, worked, went to school, and any military history or police records. You'll also need to have your fingerprints taken if you've never worked for the Federal Government.

Public Trust

Public Trust is a type of background investigation, but it is not a security clearance. Depending on the job, you must complete either the Standard Form 85 (SF85) or 85P (SF85P) questionnaire.

Security Clearance

Some jobs require a security clearance. The security clearance level depends on the type of access to classified information and secure facilities that you'll need to perform your job.

For jobs that require a security clearance, you'll need to provide at least 10 years of personal information and maybe more. You'll need to complete the Standard Form 86 (SF86).

Position sensitivity and risk

Most federal jobs are assigned sensitivity and risk levels, based on their responsibilities and duties. Sensitivity has to do with the position's potential impact on the national security of the United States. For example, a non-sensitive position has no impact on the national security. Risk has to do with a position's potential to damage the public's trust in the Federal Government.

A noncritical sensitive position has the potential to cause significant or serious damage to the national security.

A critical sensitive position has the potential to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.

A special sensitive position security has the potential to cause inestimable damage to the national security.


A low risk position is likely to produce some harm or noticeable damage to the public's trust.

A moderate risk position is likely to produce a fair amount of harm or serious damage to the public's trust.

A high risk position is likely to produce a substantial or even inestimable amount of harm or serious damage to the public's trust.

Trust determination process

If you're hired for the job, you'll undergo a background investigation. The type depends on the sensitivity and risk level of the job--the higher the sensitivity and risk, the higher the investigation level. Following the investigation, the Federal Government will make a trustworthiness determination.


This process determines if the Federal Government may issue you an identity card that allows access to federal facilities and information systems.


This process determines if you have the required level of character and conduct necessary to work for the Federal Government.

National security

This process determines if your employment would constitute a risk to national security.

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