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Investigations, Adjudications and Clearance Processes at a Glance


Investigations, Adjudications and Clearances

In the interest of safeguarding the welfare of the American people, it is required that all persons privileged to be employed in the departments and agencies of the United States Government shall be reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and of complete and unswerving loyalty to the United States.  Regulations require a background investigation to be conducted on each federal employee, contractor and military member. The scope of the investigation will vary, depending on the nature of the position and degree of harm that could be caused by the individual in that position. Requirements to be investigated for the purpose of a suitability determination apply whether or not the position requires a security clearance to have access to classified national security information.

Please see the chart below for the general background investigation process.

Step 1: Questionnaire You received an email notification from your sponsoring agency to fill out an investigative questionnaire in e-QIP. You may be required to provide fingerprints.
Step 2: Submission You have completed and released the questionnaire to your sponsoring agency.
Step 3: Investigation DCSA received your questionnaire and started a background investigation.
Step 4: Completion and Adjudication Your completed investigation is sent to your sponsoring agency for a decision and you are notified.
Step 5: Clearance Decision If needed for your position, a clearance decision is made by your sponsoring agency.
Step 6: Continuous Vetting If needed for your position, you will be enrolled in a continuous vetting program.

Step 1: Questionnaire, Filling Out Forms

The U.S. Government conducts background investigations to determine if applicants or employees meet the suitability or fitness requirements for:

  • employment as a federal employee or contractor;
  • military service;
  • eligibility for access to Federal facilities, automated systems, or classified information; and/or
  • eligibility for issuance of a credential.

All persons must be properly investigated and favorably adjudicated to hold a position as a federal employee, consultant, volunteer, contractor personnel or military personnel. The scope and type of background investigation varies depending on the duties and access requirements for the position, as does the amount of time it takes to be completed. The sponsoring (employing or hiring) agency initiating your investigation is responsible for determining the appropriate level of investigation to be conducted based on your position’s duties and responsibilities. After your sponsoring agency determines what type of background investigation you require they may conduct the investigation themselves if they are an authorized Investigations Service Provider, or they may request another Investigations Service Provider (like DCSA) to conduct the investigation.

In order to conduct a background investigation, your sponsoring agency will ask you to complete an electronic questionnaire, sign a certification of the information you provided, and sign releases. If you have any questions while filling out the form, you must contact your sponsoring agency. If this is the first time you have ever been investigated or additional investigative requirements apply, you will be requested to submit fingerprints. Supporting documentation may also be requested from you, depending on your situation, to include but not limited to citizenship documents, residence history, employment history, and selective service number. If you are filling out a Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, please see page 7 of the (guide), for a full listing of information you should collect for the form.

Providing the information requested on the form is voluntary. However, if you do not provide the information requested, it may adversely affect your ability to be eligible for the position or receive eligibility to access classified information as may be required by the position for which you are applying. Additionally, withholding, misrepresenting, or falsifying information may also negatively affect your employment prospects and job status, and the potential consequences include, but are not limited to, removal, debarment from federal service, loss of eligibility for access to classified information, or prosecution. 

Step 2: Request for Background Investigation

Once you fill out your form and provide all necessary documentation to your sponsoring agency, your sponsoring agency will review it for accuracy and complete documentation. Your agency may send the electronic questionnaire back to you to correct any missing or inaccurate information.

Your sponsoring agency has the right to begin determining your suitability and make an unfavorable determination at any point during the investigative process.  A final favorable determination, if appropriate, can only be provided after the investigation is complete. However, interim eligibility or access may be granted to you at the discretion of your sponsoring agency if specific portions of your investigation return favorable results.

Step 3: Conducting the Background Investigation

During your investigation, DCSA may conduct searches at law enforcement entities, courts, employers, educational institutions, creditors and other record repositories. Your friends, co-workers, landlords, family and neighbors may be contacted to verify where you lived, worked or went to school.  Additionally, an Investigator may interview you to verify, expand upon and/or clarify the information you provided on your investigative questionnaire.

Several investigators may work on your investigation at the same time depending on the locations of your listed activities. They may be federal employees or contractors to an Investigations Service Provider, all doing the same work and following the same laws, rules, and regulations.  The investigators submit results of record searches and interviews through a report of investigation.  Once the investigation is complete, it is sent back to your sponsoring agency so that your sponsoring agency can make a suitability, fitness and/or security determination concerning your employment.

For some types of investigations, a written request is the primary means of gathering information about a person’s character, conduct, and employment history. In these cases, DCSA sends a written inquiry to the employer to verify the individual’s employment history and gather relevant information. For other types of investigations, DCSA may send an Investigator to obtain this information personally. In all cases, your timely cooperation is appreciated and helps the government efficiently fill critical positions with qualified applicants.

Step 4: Position Eligibility Decision Based on Completed Background Investigation

When your sponsoring agency receives your completed background investigation, they will review all contents of the investigation and make a suitability, fitness and/or security decision based on the position you are applying for, or are currently holding.  This decision determines whether you are eligible for employment with, or on behalf of the federal government, and/or eligible for access to classified information if your position also requires a security clearance.

Step 5: Clearance Granting Decision

If your position requires access to classified information or facilities, your sponsoring agency will also make a decision as to whether you will be granted a security clearance based on the results of your background investigation. The decision to grant you a clearance (although technically separate from the decision made on your eligibility based on your investigation) is often made at the same time and in conjunction with the decision made based on your investigation. If a clearance is required for the position, this decision may or may not impact your ability to be employed by that sponsoring agency or contractor. As a clearance holder you are expected to report any issues or life circumstances that may effect your eligibility to hold your position or access classified information. For more information on these expectations, please see our page on Self Reporting

Step 6: Continuous Evaluation

Investigations policy and procedures have evolved considerably since 2016. The entire investigations community is in the midst of transitioning from a periodic reinvestigation procedure to a continuous evaluation (CE) model, also known as continuous vetting, to ensure Federal, military and contractors’ continued eligibility for employment and/or access to classified information. This model consists of enrolling you in a program that will alert your employing agency or organization to any changes in your eligibility based on suitability 5 CFR 731 and/or security SEAD 4 factors. You may be enrolled at any time while being employed with, or on behalf of, the Federal Government.