Q: Who Pays for Background Investigations?
A: The US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) conducts most background investigations. OPM will conduct investigations according to requests from federal agencies with a requirement to sponsor an individual eligible for a security clearance. The federal sponsor agencies pay OPM for the background investigation service of the individual they wish to grant classified access. To ensure a sponsored individual is granted, and maintains, a clearance, sponsoring federal agencies must make sure all clearance application materials are submitted; ensure the individual is eligible for access to classified materials; request and ensure periodic investigations are conducted; as well as making sure the initial background investigation is completed.
Reinvestigations and adjudications for individuals needing to maintain classified access are also paid for by the sponsoring federal agency. The kind of access (secret, top secret, sensitive compartmented information) determines the background investigation price and length. The cost of obtaining a secret security clearance requiring only a basic automated check is just several hundred dollars. The cost of a SSBI, on the other hand, averages nearly five thousand dollars.
Some agencies are allowed to conduct their own background checks instead of OPM, such as the CIA and FBI. These agencies pay their own costs to conduct such checks. Individuals may not initiate nor pay for their own background investigation. Contractor companies may request a background investigation for an individual if a contract with the sponsoring federal agency specifies a position with need for a specific clearance level. But it is the sponsoring federal agency that initiates the request to OPM for an individual’s background investigation.