Public trust is a type of background check, but it’s not a security clearance. It’s easy to understand the misconception, as the forms are similar and the questions are nearly the same. But passing a public trust background check doesn’t mean you could get a security clearance – and, strangely, having a security clearance doesn’t give you the green light for a public trust position, either.

What is a public trust?

A public trust allows employees access to sensitive, but not classified, information. Applicants complete the SF-85 or SF-85P and go through a basic criminal and credit check.

While public trust positions might not have or need access to classified information, the adjudicative guidelines are identical across the levels. What is different is the applicant’s suitability for the position, and suitability varies across agencies. Something that could cause a denial in one agency could be okay in another position. Factors such as the amount of supervision and the type of work are taken into consideration when determining a candidate’s suitability.

Positions that require public trust

So which jobs do you need a public trust for? A few of the more common roles are:

  • IT or finance positions supporting the federal government
  • Border control
  • Customs
  • Immigration
  • Federal police officers
  • Public safety and health workers
  • Comptrollers
  • Contracts managers

Employees using the federal government’s computer systems in their day-to-day jobs might need a public trust check too.

Public trust positions require a high degree of trustworthiness and reliability. Even if you have something in your background that you think may preclude you from this type of position, keep in mind that eligibility determinations take the whole person concept into account. They’re looking for people who can be trusted, not applicants who have never made a mistake.

Issues that would be a problem for a security clearance might not be a problem for a public trust position. If you do have some skeletons in your closet, be honest about the circumstances and what you’ve done since then to show you’re a changed person. This will give you the best shot at approval.

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Brynn Mahnke is a freelance writer specializing in researching, writing, and ghostwriting for clients in the career, finance, SaaS, and B2B/B2C niches. She focuses on writing case studies, whitepapers, ebooks, and articles showcasing the value her clients bring to their customers. When she isn't writing, you can find her running, cycling, or wrangling children. She can be reached through her website or at