For Applicants & Employees - Know Before You Go​

Understanding U.S. Government Background Investigations & Reinvestigations

Why do I need to get a background investigation?

DPSAC processes are governed by federal regulations. The U.S. Government conducts background investigations to determine if applicants or employees meet the suitability/fitness requirements for employment, or are eligible for access to federal facilities, automated systems, or classified information.

How is it done?

An individual's investigative requirement is determined by the duties and responsibilities of their position and the associated degree of potential damage to the efficiency or integrity of the service or adverse effect on the national security from the misconduct of an incumbent of a position. This establishes the risk and sensitivity level of the position. 

DPSAC uses the OPM Position Designation Tool (PDAT) to ensure positions across NIH are properly designated. The PDAT tool ensures the correct investigative tier is selected for the individual based on their position description. The PDT must not be submitted by the individual occupying the position. The PDT should be completed by a Federal employee as it is an inherently government function per the OMB circular A-76 and the Federal Activities Inventory Reform (FAIR) Act per DCSA.​ For more information, feel free to visit our Position Designation Tool (PDT) page designated under the Administrators tab.

A badge holder can be one of the following tiers: 

  • ​Tier 1 (Formerly NACI or level 1) – non-sensitive position.  
  • Tier 2 (Formerly MBI or level 5B) – public trust position. 
  • Tier 3 (Formerly ANACI or level 2) – non-critical sensitive national security position. This investigation makes the staff member eligible for a secret clearance.  
  • Tier 4 (Formally BI or Level 6) – public trust position. 
  • Tier 5 (Former SSBI or Level 3) – critical sensitive national security position. This investigation makes the staff member eligible for a top-secret clearance.  
  • Tier 5+ (Formerly level 4) – a select designation for staff needing TS/SCI security clearances. Only a very select few positions are within this scope.   

From these tiers, a Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 4 would only require a background check, while a Tier 3 and a Tier 5 would require a background investigation and may require a security clearance. If a security clearance is needed, the position duties would reflect the need to access classified materials in the position description. ​Feel free to read more about security clearances here.​

Positive Sensitivity DesignationPosition Risk DesignationType of InvestigationForm Type
Special SensitiveHigh RiskTier5+SCISF 86
Critical SensitiveHigh RiskTier5SF 86
Non-Critical SensitiveModerate RiskTier3SF 86
Non-Sensitive Public TrustHigh RiskTier4SF 85P
Moderate RiskTier2SF 85P
Non-SensitiveLow RiskTier1SF 85

To find the step-by-step process, please see the chart below for the general background investigation process, as shared on the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) website:

Final DCSA Investigation Process

Importance of Complying with your DCSA Investigator: 

As part of any investigation, there is a possibility of getting contacted by a DCSA investigator. It is important to emphasize you must cooperate with the requests, even if you may have already received your badge. Failure to do so can result in your investigation being cancelled, which can result in revocation of your NIH badge (if issued one). 

For the interview, you will be required to provide photo identification, such as a valid state driver's license. You may be required to provide other documents to verify your identity, as instructed by the investigator.

Feel free to call the DCSA Investigator Hotline at 878-274-1186 or use this link to verify the credentials of the DCSA investigator:

DCSA Special Agents and contract Investigators carry credentials identifying them as representatives of DCSA. They will present their credentials upon introduction. Further questions related to an Agent's/Investigator's identity or status should be directed to DCSA Security:

Investigator Verification Hotline at 878-274-1186.

Your calls and emails will be answered between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday-Friday. At all other times you can leave a message, which will be answered on the next business day.

Periodic Reinvestigations 

DPSAC conducts Reinvestigations as required by federal guidelines at intervals determined by the DCSA. Your continued badge eligibility and employment suitability at NIH is contingent on the results of the suitability investigations and reinvestigations conducted by DPSAC. 

DPSAC will contact you by email (personal and NIH) when you need to complete a reinvestigation. You will be required to go through a periodic reinvestigation every set number of years depending on your tier:

  • Tiers 2 & 4 = periodic reinvestigation required every 5 years
  • Tier 3 = periodic reinvestigation required every 10 years
  • Tier 5 Critical Sensitive = periodic reinvestigation required every 7 years
  • Tier 5 Special Sensitive (with SCI) = periodic reinvestigation required every 7 years

Federal laws and regulation require that an individual’s suitability and security eligibility be determined for entry and retention into the federal government. All applicants applying to a position in the federal government are subject to a new background investigation once a conditional offer for employment for the new position is accepted by the applicant. At any point during the course of the individual's employment, if suitability issues arise in their background, the individual may be subject to a background investigation to determine their continued suitability, fitness and/or security eligibility for federal government employment.

Summary of Why We Do What We Do:

  • It is vital for us to keep NIH personnel, vendors, visitors, facilities, records, and resources safe by ensuring personnel are properly vetted and are suitable or fit to occupy the positions they are appointed to.
  • It meets Federal Regulations, Authorities and Directives from the Executive Office, Code of Federal Regulations, Homeland Security Presidential Directives, Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA)​.