As a security professional I do a lot of reading and research to keep up with the constant changes in my chosen career field.  During the course of my reading I have come to the conclusion that many people who apply for federal contractor or civil servant positions seem confused as to what types of positions there are and what investigative requirements are needed for each.  In addition to understanding your position designation it is important to be aware of the type of investigation required based upon that determination. This confusion has been promulgated by inaccurate information in numerous security clearance articles written by those who never really worked in the personnel security field, but are now “subject matter experts.”

As has been reflected in many news forums, security clearance processes are in a state of flux with changes in the works to address identified gaps and problem areas.  Despite all of this turmoil and change, the types of positions with their inherent investigative requirements according to the position designation have not changed, and are actually quite straightforward and easy to understand if broken down in layman’s terms. Personnel security professionals are very particular about using the proper “lingo” when it comes to the use of the term “clearance.”   To them it means that a security clearance is needed or was granted based on the completion of a national security background investigation. Each position’s investigative requirements are dictated by the position designation.

How is position designation determined?

Position designation is based on the answer to these two questions:

1)   What is the level of risk to the agency, the government, and the nation if the person performing this job does something that causes damage or brings discredit upon through an act of negligence, omission, criminal, illegal or unethical behavior or conduct?

Risk Level = Low, Moderate, or High Note- moderate and high risk positions with no clearance requirements are designated as Public Trust positions.

2)   What is the sensitivity level of the position?  This means: does the position require access to classified national security information and if so, at what level?  Or do the duties entail accessing and/or performing at a sensitive facility or working with a sensitive information system that requires eligibility for a security clearance?

Sensitivity Level =

  • Non-Sensitive (no clearance needed)
  • Non-Critical Sensitive (needs eligibility for access to Secret)
  • Critical Sensitive (needs eligibility for access to Top Secret)
  • Special Sensitive (needs Top Secret clearance with eligibility for SCI access)

 Types of Position Designations and Investigative Requirements

Based on combining the risk and sensitivity levels above, here are the different types of position designations with the initial investigative requirement for each:

Position Designation Investigation/Form
Low Risk Non-Sensitive NACI (SF-85)
Moderate Risk Non-Sensitive (Public Trust) MBI (SF-85P)
High Risk Non-Sensitive  (Public Trust) BI (SF-85P)
Low Risk Non-Critical Sensitive ANACI or NACLC (SF-86)
Moderate Risk Non-Critical Sensitive MBI (SF-86)
High Risk Non-Critical Sensitive SSBI (SF-86) *Note- access is still Secret even though investigation is an SSBI.
Critical Sensitive (automatic high risk) SSBI (SF-86)
Special Sensitive (automatic high risk) SSBI (SF-86)

Initial Investigation Legend

NACI = National Agency Check with Inquiries
MBI = Moderate Background Investigation
BI = Background Investigation
ANACI = Advanced National Agency Check with Inquiries
NACLC = National Agency Check with Local Agency and Credit Checks
SSBI = Single Scope Background Investigation

When applying for a position, ensure you know what the position designation of the position is so that you know what type of investigation will be required. And remember, security professionals dislike the overuse or inappropriate use of the word clearance, so make sure you use the correct “lingo” when asking questions or seeking advice.

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Marko Hakamaa served in various military police positions with the United States Army worldwide for 22 years before retiring in 2006 as a Master Sergeant. Afterwards, he transitioned into the civilian workforce as a contractor background investigator for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) before entering civil service as a Security Specialist in 2009.