How long does a background check take for a government job?
Find out more about the process here and frequently asked questions from employees and employers alike.
Table of Contents
How long does a background check take for a government job? The answer can be a little tricky.
Those applying for a federal position may wonder why certain checks take longer than others, but with a government position, the number of databases and the amount of information that is screened can be considerable, so knowing how long does a background check take for a government job can help people understand the time frame involved and what to expect.
The average turnaround time for a governmental background check is between one to eight months, depending on the security clearance required.
Government background checks are managed through guidelines established by the Pentagon. So, what does a Department of Defense (DOD) background check consist of?
Quite a bit.
A background check provides an employer with required information about a specific application for an open position.1
A government background check is no different, because it’s used to determine if someone is eligible to work in a governmental position. Many non-military individuals apply for jobs in agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Treasury, or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and those positions require a high level of trust.
Instead of performing a regular background check or employee background check, the government background check adds additional measures of clearance to ensure the individual is suitable for the open position and not a security risk.
The person applying for the job must consent to the background check and complete the required forms to continue with the check.
The first type of screening involved with a government background check is the suitability review.2 Every person interested in applying for a federal position must undergo this evaluation.
The purpose of this review is different from an experience evaluation — it merely analyzes a person’s character and integrity in their life and the workplace.3
A credit check is an integral part of the government background check. Even those who are the lowest priority in terms of federal occupations, will still undergo a credit check and tax records examination during the National Agency Check with Inquiries.
Once the candidate accepts their position, they must consent to a credit report, which is more in-depth than just the credit check included in the previous hiring measures. If a person is wondering how long a background check takes for employment, checking credit history is an essential part of this process.
In addition to the suitability review, a person must undergo a security clearance during their government background check.5
The purpose of the security clearance is to determine if the individual is safe to hire and suitable to access classified information during their job. Compared to the suitability review, which focuses on the person’s conduct, the security clearance focuses on the in-depth history of the person’s background and employment.6
During the security clearance process of a government background check search, the candidate will be placed in one of three tiers: Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret.
Individuals applying for a federal position must understand that a security clearance can increase the check turnaround time.
Does a background check include a drug test? Yes, it is included in the government background check.
Past unlawful use of drugs, supplying illegal drugs, manufacturing illegal drugs, or requesting information about illegal drugs within the last year can disqualify someone from a position. This suitability issue can cause a person to no longer be considered for a job with a federal agency.
Employment history will be found and analyzed and scrutinized during the government background check. During this check, the government officials will look for inconsistencies, discrepancies, and any stories that do not add up.
If someone does not answer questions honestly, this can cause the background check to not match up with what current and past employers report. Above all else, be honest on your background search application.
Those who wish to become government officials or work in a federal agency must be a U.S. citizen or a person who owes permanent allegiance to the USA. Non-citizens may have access to work for a specific country if they must be urgently cleared on a time-sensitive matter.
The E-Verify system allows enrolled employees to confirm their employers are eligible to work in the United States. This social security background check lets employers (like the federal government) confirm that a person’s employment status is truthful and verified. Furthermore, using a person’s social security number can confirm a person’s citizenship and identity.
The S.F. 85 form is a document used for investigations or suitability for federal government positions or eligible for access to classified information. It is often involved in a FBI background check.
One of the most critical processes for determining a person’s eligibility for high-level positions in the interview process. Individuals who pass the initial background check and security clearance will proceed to the interview stage, where they will speak face to face with a government official.
If someone is wondering “how long does a background check take for a government job,” making it to the interview process can increase the waiting time.
Dual citizenship is when a person is legally allowed to naturalize once they turn 18 years of age, reside in the United States for five years, and hold a green card 8.
Those with dual citizenship will have to be reviewed individually to see if they qualify to work for the federal government. Dual nationals who have ties to other countries are advised not to take any positions in the other country and turn in their foreign passport.
Education is included in the government background check. The federal government will examine high school education, college history, continued education, internships, and other online courses and programs.
Although residency may not seem as important when applying for a government job, individuals must be aware that both short-term and long-term residencies will be included on the check. Including short stays, like internships, can be imperative to be accepted for the open position.
Candidates who have sought counseling in the past for drug use or mental health issues must be honest about their history. They must contact the counseling provider to obtain a release of medical information before undergoing the background check.
How long does a criminal background check take? It depends on the person’s criminal history.
The last aspect included in the federal background check for government positions is a criminal records search. This comprehensive search examines records from the entire life, not limited to a number of years, and it is based on fingerprints, not simply a name. Knowing how long a fingerprint background check takes can provide a clue to length of time the complete check will take.
For example, many people wonder how long does a misdemeanor stay on your record? In the event that a government background check is conducted, the misdemeanor (and even sealed or expunged records) will show up.
This is true for felonies, as well as instances where someone was charged but not convicted, as well as recent arrest records and any other involvement with law enforcement, regardless of how long ago it occurred.
A background check for employment in the government is mandatory. But how long does the federal employment background check process take? How long does a background check take for a government job?
The National Agency Check with Inquiries, including the law enforcement check, records evaluation, credit check, and written inquiries of past employers and landlords, can take 2-3 months. Conversely, most Secret or Top Secret security clearances take between 2-6 months.
Depending on the applicant and the position, the process can take 9-12 months.
Understanding the federal employment background check disqualifiers is a must-know before applying. There are numerous reasons people may be disqualified from employment on a federal background check. A federal background check is conducted by federal officials for those who are applying for government positions.
These checks involve looking at a person’s employment history, financial history, character, credit history, criminal record, education, drug use, and other essential attributes that can affect the likelihood of employment.
When wondering “how long does a background check take for a government job,” knowing what might be considered red flags or what will automatically make someone have a failed background check after job offer is essential. These include:
One of the leading causes of not being employed by a federal position is poor employment history. Gaps in employment can cause red flags due to lack of consistency, firings, employer concerns, or unreliability.
Another aspect that can disqualify people from a federal employment check is dishonesty during past employment opportunities, lying about qualifications, or embellishing the truth regarding skills.
If a person lies on their application or during an interview, government officials will most likely catch this since they conduct an extremely thorough background check.
Although a criminal history may have occurred in the past, it can still disqualify someone from being hired by a conventional agency. Depending on the standards, a person can be hired at another occupation — however, for a government job, criminal history is an automatic disqualifier.
Bad references from past employers can also cause a failed background check. If an individual’s previous employer states they are not qualified, not a good worker, or do not work well with others, this can take them out of the running for a future job.
Credit checks are performed during the initial hiring and the second phase of the employment background check. If a person passes the credit check, but the government finds red marks on the credit report, this can make them unqualified for the position in question.
Any signs of drug use or dealing with illegal substances can disqualify a person from open positions.
A person may be disqualified from a government work position if they are not authorized to work in the USA and they are not a legal U.S. citizen.
How long does a government background check take and how long does it take to hear back after a background check?
The entire application process will take much longer than it does with another occupation. Government agencies hope to fill open positions within 80 days or less. Once the job position is closed, the agency must notify the respective applicants within 2-3 months of the decision.
Potential employees can track their application once it is received, and check things like:
If a candidate qualifies for the selection process, which involves an interview, it will take approximately 2-3 weeks to set up the interview in person. After the interview, the final candidates should hear the decision within 2 weeks.
So, when asking, “how long does a background check take for a government job,” the entire job process can take upwards of 4-5 months.
A government background check is the process a federal agency uses to verify if a candidate is who they claim to be. This background check also considers various factors that can make the person qualified, or not qualified, for the open government position. These factors include employment history, criminal history, credit history, drug use, poor character, past education, and personal references.
Government security checks, also known as security clearances, involve the process of determining if an individual is able to access sensitive information that is imperative to national security.
Individuals already working within the federal government must obtain a security clearance, which involves an examination, evaluation, and interview to see if they can access classified information.
Other individuals must undergo a security clearance or security check before they are hired to see if they are qualified to apply for a specific role in the government. Since the federal government is broken down into three levels of security — Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret — many individuals will have to undergo security clearance vetting to determine if they can work in the specific sector.
Public trust positions are government positions that require a high level of trust and confidence.9 These individuals are respected federal officials who must continuously operate with the rules and regulations set forth by the specific position.
Most public trust positions contain a high level of responsibility in the federal government, such as access to public records, personal records, law enforcement positions, fiduciary responsibilities, and public safety duties.
If a person is considered for a public trust position, their responsibilities are evaluated against all respective criteria, such as national security, public trust, and additional agency stipulations.
In addition, public trust positions do not require periodic re-investigation, although agencies have the option to request an individual to undergo another security clearance in the future.
A background check is a necessary screening measure for individuals applying for a federal position. Those considering a government job are required to undergo an extensive screening process that can take upwards of 8 months. When asking “how long does a background check take for a government job,” know that the time frame reflects the intensity of the check.
Find out more about the process here and frequently asked questions from employees and employers alike.
There are no set periods determining when federal employees should undergo background checks. However, a guideline is typically used with all current employees. Depending on the employer’s position and their security clearance, employees will be screened every 2-5 years.
A tentative offer from the government for an open position is a two-step process that includes further questioning before proceeding. The candidate will likely receive a phone call to learn about the trials of the job offer and complete any pre-employment requirements. Once They are complete, candidates will then wait for an official request to be sent to them to start working.
Every federal candidate and current employer is required to undergo a background check during their time with the respective agency. Employees must be screened on a regular basis to ensure that they are reliable and loyal to the United States.
Since most federal positions have access to highly confidential and secure data, they must be analyzed to ensure they are trustworthy before sharing national security information.
The government is looking to ensure every candidate and person hired for the respective position is deemed to be of good conduct, reliable, trustworthy, and loyal to the US 
The government will contact any current and past employer to determine eligibility for the open position in the oven. The government must ensure the individual is a reliable employee and there have been no conduct or personality issues during current or previous jobs.
The social security number is the only way to identify whether the person is who they say they are. The SSN is a measure of identifying an individual and obtaining work authorization before moving further in the thorough screening process.
A felony record or a pending criminal conviction is exposed during the criminal background check. If a candidate has a felony, this will disqualify them from obtaining a government position.
The government will check an applicant’s credit score during the hiring process. The government will analyze the person’s credit check before moving on towards the next step of the process. Later on, they will obtain a full credit report to see any financial discrepancies or worries.
1Background Checks. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Retrieved from <https://www.eeoc.gov/background-checks>
2Suitability & Background Information. (2014). The United States Department of Justice. Retrieved from <https://www.justice.gov/oarm/suitability-background-investigation>
3Before You Apply: Understanding Government Background Checks. Yale Law School. Retrieved from <https://law.yale.edu/student-life/career-development/students/career-pathways/public-interest/you-apply-understanding-government-background-checks>
4Policy, Data, Oversight. OPM.Gov. Retrieved from <https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/assessment-and-selection/other-assessment-methods/background-evaluationinvestigation/>
5Security Clearances. U.S. Department of State. Retrieved from <https://www.state.gov/security-clearances>
6Security Clearance Questions. (2021). U.S. Department of Defense. Retrieved from <https://www.defense.gov/Help-Center/Article/Article/2746429/security-clearance-questions/>
7Questionnaire for Public Trust Positions. OPM.Gov. Retrieved from <https://www.opm.gov/forms/pdf_fill/sf85p.pdf>
8Mazzolari F. (2009). Dual citizenship rights: do they make more and richer citizens?. Demography, 46(1), 169–191. https://doi.org/10.1353/dem.0.0038
9Human Capital. Personnel Suitability Guidance Position Sensitivity and Public Trust Risk Level Determinations Q&A. USGS. Retrieved from <https://www.usgs.gov/human-capital/personnel-suitability-guidance-position-sensitivity-and-public-trust-risk-level-0#:~:text=A%3A%20Public%20trust%20 positions%20 are,applicable%20laws%2C%20regulations%20and%20guidelines>
10United States. Civil Service Journal, 6, 21. (2011). Office of Personnel Management, 1965.