A Federal Investigations Notice released October 5 clarified that the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) no longer has to ask applicants to unfreeze their credit prior to a federal government background check. The change is in response to the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, which was signed into law in May. The Act included an amendment which allows credit bureaus to access frozen credit reports for background screening purposes. This change allows NBIB to receive the credit information it needs without the applicant unfreezing his or her credit report.
The change is an important one, both as the government looks to grow the number of individuals under continuous evaluation (CE), and as security clearance holders find themselves increasingly subject to attacks on their personal information, from the Office of Personnel breach to the more recent DoD travel system hack. One of the recommendations made in the wake of the OPM breach was for security clearance holders to place a hold on their credit. A credit freeze means nefarious actors can’t access your credit, open a loan or create a new account in your name.
Any background investigation cases submitted to NBIB September 24 or after are subject to the new guidelines. If your background investigation was sent before September 24, you would still need to unfreeze your credit for the background investigation to be completed.
What’s so important about a credit report?
Financial issues are by far the biggest cause of security clearance denial or revocation. It’s critical that the government is able to check credit reports as a part of a background investigation, both the initial investigation to determine clearance eligibility, and CE. But with the seemingly continual attacks on security clearance holders’ personal data, it’s also critical that national security workers be able to protect their finances through steps such as freezing credit. The passage of the Consumer Protection Act ensures both the government has access to the data it needs, and clearance holders are able to maintain a freeze on their credit. Previously, it was required that clearance holders unfreeze their credit for the duration of a background investigation. The issue with that is the current delays. It was nearly impossible for an applicant to know when the government would need to pull a credit report when the investigation may begin anywhere from 30 days to 30 months after it has been submitted.
The legislative change also paves the way for current plans to move from periodic reinvestigations to CE, which would involve continually monitoring security clearance holders for significant changes – including any troubling actions related to finances and credit.