A federal background check is more formally known as an FBI Identification Record and is provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Also known as a criminal history record or rap sheet (according to the FBI's government website), the Identification Record uses fingerprints to provide various pieces of information to the individual requesting the check.
The Identification Record uses fingerprint submissions retained by the FBI to check on connections with arrests, federal employment, naturalization and/or military service. Information concerning arrests will include the agency that submitted the fingerprints, the date of the arrest, the charge(s), and--if on record with the FBI--the result of the arrest.
According to the FBI, its Criminal Justice Information Services handles requests for identification records. The FBI website lists "United States Department of Justice Order 556-73" as an order that establishes rules for a person to obtain a copy of his own record. According to the order's most recent update on Sept. 28, 1999, such records cost $18. The fee should be included in the request.
As stated by the FBI, Public Law 92-544 empowers the bureau to "exchange criminal history record information with officials of state and local governments for employment [and] licensing."
While the FBI will send personal records to an individual upon request, the FBI website is careful to specify that, due to the inability of an agency to determine whether records are adulterated, government agencies may not accept records obtained by the individual in question, and individuals should follow the procedures specified by the prospective employer.
The FBI website offers a sample cover letter as well as specific instructions for obtaining a record. Necessary information includes name, mailing address, associated deadlines, original fingerprints on an official card, date of birth and place of birth, among other information.