Government Background Check
Background Checks for Different Types of Government Jobs
State, federal, and local government employment have always required background checks, even for nonpolitical jobs such as working at the U.S. Post Office. The federal government conducts its own screenings for key positions, but standard background sources of information provide universal data that private screening companies or government sources use in their investigations.
State and local government might outsource their screenings to private companies. The type of background check depends on the degree of responsibility employees have for making decisions, dealing with confidential information, handling funds, or facing national security issues.
Most government jobs at all levels require criminal records checks, credit reports, education confirmations, medical records, and employment records. Driving records, any property ownership, and drug testing records will add information to give hiring personnel the tools they need to make decisions. Government work usually requires thorough checking of all personal and employment references, but investigators might also interview friends, neighbors, and family members to get a more complete picture.
Paperwork Creates Substantial Basis for Investigation
Many of the background screening decisions depend on information that job applicants supply. Governments seem to specialize in paperwork, and potential government employees must first demonstrate the patience and ability to work their way through significant levels of red tape.
Depending on job requirements, government background screenings might include the following checks:
- Credit reports. Government agencies must inform applicants they will have their credit records checked by authority of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Federal employees and most state workers must agree to these tests and sign authorizing paperwork.
- Criminal investigation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducts many types of investigations including antiterrorist checks, cyberspace violations, antitrust investigations, and charges of violation of intellectual property. People working in advanced managerial functions and the state department might need this level of investigation.
- Medical records. Medical history can only be checked in cases where an applicant’s physical condition proves crucial to work performance. These types of positions might include enforcement positions with the FBI.
- Bankruptcies and military records. Bankruptcy information might be included in credit checks, but it cannot be used for hiring decisions according to The Federal Bankruptcy Act. Only basic details of military records may be released without an applicant’s written consent.
- Psychological testing. Psychological and drug testing provide extra confirmation of stability for sensitive government jobs. These tests require applicant approval.
- School records. Detailed school records might be required for some sensitive state and federal positions. Applicants must approve release of these records according to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Many government employers and some private contractors require security clearances for certain types of positions. Only the federal government has the power to issue security clearances through the Department of Defense or other agencies. The three levels of security authorization include Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret:
- Confidential. Defense Investigative Services usually conduct these clearances, which are the easiest to obtain, but special agencies might have their own investigative units such as the Department of Energy, State Department, or FBI.
- Secret. This type of clearance often involves national security in some way. People who work for the Central Intelligence Agency or National Security Agency must obtain these high clearances, and military investigators usually conduct the investigations by interviewing family, friends, neighbors, and business associates.
- Top secret. This highest level of clearance shares many of the investigating protocols of secret clearances, but the level of investigation reaches deeper levels. Only the most trusted individuals can qualify for these security clearances. Violating confidentiality at this level could compromise national security or pose risks to American citizens. This level must be renewed every five years.
In fact, reinvestigation often proves more important than the original clearance. Most people have no access to information they could sell or deliver to a foreign government. People who have worked in trusted positions for a long period gain greater access to secrets, increasing the risk they might sell out deliberately or inadvertently. Security clearances take from six months to one year to investigate. Temporary clearances can be granted, but in practical terms, most agencies do not grant them.
The level of background investigation could vary greatly, depending on the parameters of the job. Postal employees might receive screening similar to other employment investigations. Attorneys handling sensitive issues might receive a mid-level check. Foreign attaches might receive an incredibly thorough vetting.