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.

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

Some federal jobs also have a sensitivity and risk level, based on the whether their responsibilities and duties have the potential to adversely impact the national security.

A non-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.

Trust determination process

If you’re hired for the job, this is the type of investigation you’ll undergo (in addition to a background check). The type depends on the sensitivity and risk level of the job. The higher the sensitivity and risk, the higher the investigation level.


This process determines if you can obtain a secure and reliable form of identification issued by the Federal Government.


A determination to see if you have the required level of character and conduct necessary to work for the Federal Government.

National security

A determination to see if employment would constitute a risk to national security.

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.