What Is Public Trust Security Clearance?

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Public trust security clearances are issued to federal employees of various agencies whose positions directly or indirectly affect the public at large. There are three levels of public trust security clearances: high, moderate and low. The levels are reflective of the potential risk to the employing agency and the general public. The individual agencies are responsible for designating specific levels of security clearances commensurate with the level of responsibility entrusted to the position.

Public Trust Positions

Public trust positions include those responsible for policymaking, public health and safety, law enforcement, fiduciary management or any activity beholden to the public’s trust. These positions usually involve access to sensitive information such as financial or personal records and records that can be manipulated to cause physical or financial harm to the public or the controlling agency.

Controlling Authority

Public trust security clearance investigations are managed by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and are conducted either directly by the OPM or an authorized investigating agency. The OPM is responsible for the guidelines and implementation of federal employment suitability programs and processes. The OPM also conducts investigations of contract employees whose positions require a clearance.

Clearance Requirements

The OPM varies the level of investigation with the level of clearance sought. The minimum investigative level is a National Agency Check with Inquiries (NACI). This investigation consists of a detailed check of an individual’s employment, education and residential and legal history (extending 5 years). Additionally, written reference inquiries are conducted.

High Public Trust Positions

High-risk positions include upper managerial positions, responsibilities of running major programs, positions related to policy development and implementation, law enforcement officers or any other position that requires carrying a weapon.

Moderate-Risk Positions

Moderate-risk positions pose a moderate to serious threat to the integrity and efficiency of the employing agency. These positions include policy assistants, mid-level management, positions involving independent actions and service positions requiring public trust.

Low-Risk Positions

Low-risk positions are those involving duties with a limited impact on the employing agency. These positions may include housekeeping, food service and other support positions.