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Human Capital Services and Support

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Questions & Answers
Personnel Suitability Guidance
Position Sensitivity and Public Trust Risk Level Determinations


Q: Why is the USGS requiring background investigations for people who have been working in information technology (IT) or public trust positions all along? What’s different now?

A: The laws and/or regulations governing background investigation requirements for computer security and pubic trust have been in place since the late 1980’s. Heightened national security awareness and increasing incidents of computer hacking and other malicious access to IT systems make it necessary to take precautions to safeguard Federal information assets and ensure the suitability of individuals with whom we entrust important public service functions. The USGS, as well as many other Federal agencies, is taking steps to ensure full compliance with established regulations.

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Q: Where can I find the regulations covering national security, public trust and IT security?

A: The regulations governing national security, public trust and IT security are found in Title 5 of the Code of Federal Regulations, parts 731, 732 and 736. The Department of the Interior policy guidance is found in Departmental Manual (DM) 441, Personnel Security and Suitability Requirements, portions of which are currently being revised. The USGS policy guidance for national security positions is found in Survey Manual Chapter 440.7 and the National Security Position Handbook, 440-7H.

Specific bureau policy guidance for public trust will be developed over the coming months.

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Q: What does an investigation entail?

A: From the employee perspective, you would be required to complete the investigation questionnaire; and, depending upon the type of investigation, you may be required to be fingerprinted. The questionnaire asks you to provide information such as residences, places of employment, education, references, marital status, relatives, military history, foreign countries visited, police record and drug use.

Depending upon the type of background investigation, the Office of Human Resources Management (OPM) investigators will conduct a variety of checks that may include an FBI investigative file name check, military personnel record search, credit search of national credit bureaus, local law enforcement check, selective service check, a review of the Defense Clearance and Investigations Index, and possibly a personal interview.

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Q: Will all employees be required to undergo an investigation?

A: All Federal positions are subject to some type of background investigation or clearance depending upon the duties and responsibilities of the position or the level of access to national security data or systems required to perform the work. We anticipate the majority of USGS employees possess the appropriate level of investigation for their current position, including all employees with access to national security data or systems. While we will eventually review everyone’s level of investigation, our immediate focus is on employees in positions that have IT security responsibilities and positions that are identified as having public trust responsibilities. Employees found to not have the appropriate level of investigation for their current position will be required to undergo an investigation. In the future, all new employees and employees moving into positions covered by investigation requirements will be required to undergo the appropriate level of investigation for the position upon appointment or reassignment.

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Q: What are Information Technology (IT) security responsibilities?

A: The Department of the Interior (DOI) has defined positions with IT security responsibilities as any position that has advanced rights or access to IT systems beyond that of a regular user, to include database, network, mail and system administrators, programmers, IT security managers, system owners, information owners, and system program managers. In addition, positions that have programmatic and/or management control over system resources are also included.

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Q: What are public trust positions?

A: Public trust positions are positions that perform work that involve a significant degree of public trust and confidence that the Federal official will carry out the work in accordance with applicable laws, regulations and guidelines. Most of these positions include policy making or major program responsibilities, fiduciary (monetary) responsibilities, law enforcement positions and public safety and health duties. In addition, other public trust positions also involve access to, or operation or control of, proprietary systems, such as financial or personal records, that present a significant risk for causing damage to people, programs or an agency, or for realizing personal gain.

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Q: What happens if my position includes national security, public trust and/or IT security responsibilities? Do I need multiple background investigations?

A: Every position’s responsibilities are evaluated against national security, public trust and IT security criteria. The employee in the position is required to undergo the highest level of investigation identified by the evaluation. As an example, an employee in a position identified as low risk for public trust duties but high risk for IT security would be required to undergo an investigation appropriate for a high risk position.

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Q: I am a USGS employee with a current security clearance (or, I had a clearance when employed with another Federal agency or private industry). Do I have to have another investigation with USGS?

A: There are several things that will be considered in determining whether an employee needs to undergo an investigation.

  • The type of investigation or clearance you have had in the past.
  • Whether the USGS can verify the records in your Official Personnel Folder or with the USGS Security Office.
  • The investigation requirements of your current position.

If you had an investigation with another Federal agency or private industry it must have been formally transferred and accepted by the USGS in order to be verified and acceptable. If no record of the investigation or clearance is available, you will need to have another if your position requires it.

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Q: Does an investigation expire? Will I have to have a reinvestigation in the future?

A: Some positions with national security responsibilities require periodic reinvestigation. Current regulations for public trust and IT security do not require periodic reinvestigation, although agencies have the option to do so. At this time, DOI policy guidance does not require periodic reinvestigations for public trust or IT security responsibilities. However, if your job duties change or you move to another position with higher level public trust duties or access to national security information or data, the appropriate level of investigation will be required.

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Q: How will it be determined that I need a background investigation?

A: Bureau managers, with guidance from the Human Resources Office, will determine which positions are high, moderate or low risk for public trust and information technology security. Position characteristics that will be considered in making this determination include managerial or policy making authorities, specific delegated authorities (e.g. personnel, procurement and contract, purchasing authorities, managerial, etc.), health and public safety responsibilities, and IT system management and access privileges. The results of these determinations will be applied across the bureau to all positions. The level of background investigation required for a position will be compared to the level of background investigation the employee in the position has undergone in the past and that is documented in official USGS records maintained either by the Human Resources Office or the Security Management Office.

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Q: I don’t want to have a background investigation. Do I have a choice?

A: The determination of whether you need to have a background investigation is based on the duties, responsibilities and authorities of your position. In order to remain in your position you would be required to have the appropriate background investigation.

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Q: How long does a background investigation or clearance take?

A: The length of time required to conduct a background investigation or clearance depends upon the type of investigation. Basic lower level investigations typically take 3-4 months whereas some of the more involved investigations or clearances can take over a year to complete.

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Q: I was arrested once; how will that impact me?

A: Arrest records or any negative or derogatory information is evaluated by OPM and/or the bureau regarding its recency, seriousness, relevance to the position and duties, and in light of, and in relationship to, all other information about you.

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Q: Will my supervisor find out about my arrest record?

A: OPM provides investigation results to the agencies and identifies any negative or derogatory information. If the result is considered by OPM or the Human Resources Office to warrant consideration as a suitability issue, the supervisor will be consulted.

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Q: What is considered a suitability issue?

A: Suitability issues include a range of identified personal behaviors involving intoxicants, drug use, financial irresponsibility, criminal and immoral conduct, dishonesty, disruptive or violent behavior, employment misconduct or negligence, and/or firearms and weapons. Suitability issues range from minor to major. Examples of major issues include convictions for child molestation; sexual assault; armed robbery; extortion; assault with a deadly weapon; murder; arson; abuse of fiduciary trust; patterns of excessive use of, manufacturing of, addition to, importing, trafficking in, or cultivating for sale controlled substances; etc.

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Q: What happens if my investigation identifies a suitability issue?

A: Agencies are provided significant latitude to adjudicate issues identified during an investigation. Our experience is that very few investigations result in issues that cannot be positively adjudicated resulting in no impact to the employee. If in a rare instance an issue is identified that cannot be positively adjudicated, the bureau will do everything possible to place the employee in a position not subject to the background investigation requirements either within the USGS or another Federal agency. However, if there are no positions available, the employee will be unable to continue employment with the USGS.

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Q: I have a question. Who can I ask?

A: If you have additional questions contact your servicing Human Resources Office.

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Page Last Modified: Friday, 27-Mar-2015 09:49:18 EDT