For Applicants & Employees - Know Before You Go​

Understanding U.S. Government Background Investigations

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 SensitiveHigh RiskTier5SF 86
Moderate 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:


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)​.