Security Clearance Investigations Process Updated

It’s not your security clearance that’s taking so long, it’s the investigation, or in some cases, reinvestigation, which is slowing things down.

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On August 29, 2011 the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued Federal Investigations Notice — FIN 11-4 announcing the full implementation of revised National Investigative Standards initially agreed upon by OPM and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) on August 24, 2010. This includes updates to the security clearance investigation process.

These revised standards represent a significant retreat from 3-tier concept approved in December 2008 by OPM and DNI.  The 3-tier concept attempted to fully implement the intent of Executive Order 13467 by reducing the number of different suitability and security clearance investigations and by creating a system that allowed for “each successively higher level investigation to build on rather than duplicate low level investigations.”  It created 3 types of initial investigations and 2 types of reinvestigations. It also significantly reduced the standard scope of all investigations by relying heavily on enhanced “Automated Records Checks” (ARC) that reportedly used many more government and commercial databases than currently used in the National Agency Check and credit search.  It appeared to be a structure that might finally break down the barriers to greater suitability and clearance reciprocity between agencies.

The new revised standards are based on a 5-tier system that uses 6 types of investigations and 4 types of reinvestigations that have existed for many years and retain the existing scope and period of coverage of these investigations.  The new standards do not permit individuals to move readily between Public Trust (PT) positions and National Security positions without additional investigations.  The main obstacle appears to be the different application forms used for these positions.  The chart below describes the revised investigative standards by grouping position risk and sensitivity levels into 5 tiers; however, OPM does not use tiers to describe these levels.

LEVEL POSITION FORM INVESTIGATION REINVESTIGATION
Tier 1 Low Risk Non-sensitive, including HSPD-12 Credentialing SF85 NACI None
Tier 2a Low Risk Non-critical sensitive, including Confidential, Secret, & L access eligibility for contractors & military SF86 NACLC NACLC every 10 years
Tier 2b Low Risk Non-critical Sensitive, including Confidential, Secret, & L access eligibility for federal employees SF86 ANICI NACLC every 10 years
Tier 3a Moderate Risk PT Non-sensitive SF85P MBI NACLC every 5 years
Tier 3b Moderate Risk PT Non-critical Sensitive, including Confidential, Secret, & L access eligibility SF86 MBI NACLC every 5 years
Tier 4a High Risk PT Non-sensitive SF85P BI PRI every 5 years
Tier 4b High Risk PT Non-critical Sensitive, including Confidential, Secret, & L access eligibility SF86 BI PRI every 5 years
Tier 5 Any risk level Critical Sensitive or Special Sensitive, including Top Secret, SCI, and Q access eligibility SF86 SSBI SSBI-PR or PPR  every 5 years

Note:  Currently there are only reinvestigation requirements for some Tier 3 and Tier 4 positions; however, in November 2010 OPM proposed a change to Title 5 Code of Federal Regulations section 731.106(d) requiring reinvestigations for all Public Trust positions at 5 year intervals, and this change should be implemented in the near future.

This 5-tier structure is essentially the same as the structure that has existed for over a decade.  OPM eliminated a few optional investigations, such as the LBI, PTSBI, and PRIR, and a variety of investigations used to update or upgrade previous investigation.

Description of Investigations

NAC (National Agency Check)—This is a basic component of all standard investigations and includes a review of the records of the FBI-HQ (name check), FBI-ID (fingerprint check), SII (OPM’s Security and Investigations Index), JPAS (DOD’s Joint Personnel Adjudication System), and records of other federal agencies, as appropriate, plus an Interpol records checks on all non-military personnel who resided outside the U.S. for six months or more within the past five to ten years (depending on the type of investigation) or when there is information indicating they may have engaged in criminal activity overseas.

CREDIT SEARCH—This is a component of most standard investigations and includes verification of Subject’s financial status through a search of all three national credit bureaus covering all locations where the subject has resided, been employed, or attended school for six months or more for the past seven years.

NACI (National Agency Check and Inquiries)—This investigation is composed of a NAC plus written inquiries to current and past employers, schools, references, and local law enforcement agencies covering the past five years and if applicable, of the appropriate agency for any identified arrests. All DoD NACIs include a credit search.

NACLC (National Agency Check with Local Agency Check and Credit)—This investigation is composed of a NAC plus credit search and checks at local law enforcement agencies where the subject has lived, worked, and/or attended school within the last 5 years, and if applicable, of the appropriate agency for any identified arrests.

ANACI (Access National Agency Check and Inquiries)—This investigation is composed of a NACLC plus written inquires to current and past employers, schools, and references covering past 5 years.

MBI (Moderate Risk Background Investigation)—This investigation is composed of a NACLC plus an Enhanced Subject Interview (ESI) and written inquires to employers, schools, and references for past 5 years.

BI (Background Investigation)—This investigation is composed of a NACLC plus a ESI; interviews at employment, schools, and residences for the past 5 years; and review of any court actions for past 5 years.

PRI (Periodic Reinvestigation)—This investigations is composed of a NACLC plus ESI and written inquiries to references.

SSBI (Single Scope Background Investigation)—This investigation is composed of a NAC plus credit search; ESI; NAC on spouse or cohabitant; interviews at employment for past 7 years; interviews at schools and residences covering the past three years; review of any court actions covering the past 10 years; interview of any former spouse divorced within the past 10 years, interviews of 4 social references who collectively cover at least the past 7 years; checks at local law enforcement agencies where the subject lived, worked, and/or attended school within the last 10 years, and if applicable, of the appropriate agency for any identified arrests; verification of citizenship or legal status of foreign-born applicant, immediate family members, and cohabitant.

SSBI-PR (SSBI Period Reinvestigation)—This investigation is composed of a NACLC plus ESI; NAC on new spouse or cohabitant; interview of a former spouse if the divorce occurred after the last investigation; employment and social reference interviews covering past 5 years; interview of neighbors at current residence; review of any court actions covering the past 5 years; and a check of the Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) database.

PPR (Phased Period Reinvestigation)—This investigation is used in place of an SSBI-PR when there is no unfavorable information in certain sections of the SF86.  It is the same as an SSBI-PR minus the interviews of social references and neighborhood references.  If unfavorable information surfaces during the investigation, the PPR is upgraded to an SSBI-PR.

Explanation of terms

LBI – Limited Background Investigation.

PTSBI – Public Trust Special Background Investigation.

PRIR – Periodic Reinvestigation with Residence Coverage.

SF85 – Standard Form 85, Questionnaire for Non-Sensitive Positions.

SF85P – Standard Form 85P, Questionnaire for Public Trust Positions.

SF86 – Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions

HSPD-12 – Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 requires Personal Identity Verification credentials for anyone with physical or logical access to federally controlled facilities or computer systems.

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