Screening employees to ensure a safe workplace is critical, but certain jobs require more comprehensive background checks than others, particularly when personal or national security is at stake. The federal government screens its employees in the hope of achieving a workforce composed of individuals who are “reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and loyal to the United States.”
While basic background checks can assess an employee’s criminal and personal history, they cannot determine whether or not a person can be entrusted with sensitive information on the federal level. Therefore, the federal government gives its employees security clearances in addition to comprehensive background screenings to safeguard different levels of confidential information. The three types of federal job classifications are:
- Public Trust
- National Security
The security clearance required for a certain position determines the extent of an job candidate’s background screening. Federal employees with lower-level security clearances undergo basic background checks. Employees with higher security clearances, particularly on the national security level, are subject to lengthy screening processes that examine personal information several years back.
National security clearances have four different classifications:
- Confidential clearances expose authorized parties to information that “may cause damage to national security” if exposed to an unauthorized party.
- Secret clearances “may cause serious damage to national security” if classified information is exposed to an unauthorized party.
- Top secret clearances “may cause exceptionally grave damage” if classified information exposed to an authorized party.
- Sensitive compartmented information deals with sensitive intelligence and how it is handled under specific control channels.
Federal agencies alone authorize the aforementioned security clearances for their employees. These clearances are detailed and layered within the agencies themselves and companies specifically contracted with the federal government. Anyone who has a security clearance within the federal system receives a job offer before undergoing a background check process that can take up to a year depending on clearance level and department resources.
Because a basic, automated background screening cannot give the government the assurance that an individual has the capacity to protect information that could threaten national security, federal agencies spend the necessary time and money to acquire employees worthy of the trust required for each security clearance.