Many people that are applying for a job may be wondering, what does federal background check consist of and what does a security clearance background check look like?
Although what exactly is checked will depend on the position that is being applied for, there are at least 10 things in the list below that are considered during this federal verification process.
Federal background checks are far more intensive than most background checks but shouldn’t be a cause for major concern for most individuals.
In fact, anyone can do a level 1 background check to determine if any disqualifiers exist before applying for federal
What Does a Federal Background Check Consist Of?
Most people wondering, what does federal background check consist of, likely have a specific job in mind that they may have already applied for. Like most pre-employment background checks, the exact checks will determine the position being applied for. However, when it comes to jobs in the federal government there are a handful of checks that are run no matter what the job is.
The above checks will be performed at a bare minimum for all jobs in the federal government. These checks are generally performed through the FBI as part of the FBI’s Identity History Summary Check.1 This is a fingerprint-based check that pulls from numerous criminal databases that show arrests, charges, and other criminal information in addition to convictions.
Besides the minimum background checks above, there are numerous other checks that will be performed for specific positions in the federal government. These include but are not limited to:
- Driving Record Check
- Credit History Check
- Education Verification
- Employment Verification
- Drug Screening
- Conflict of Interest Check
- Public Trust Clearance Check
- Extensive Reference Checks
- Mental Health Checks
- Cognitive & Integrity tests
Most individuals will undergo a handful of these additional checks. Most of the more intensive checks are reserved for positions in the federal government that require a certain amount of public trust and security clearance due to access to potentially harmful information.
The checks for these positions will be some of the most exhaustive background check procedures anywhere and generally include months of reference checks and various integrity and trust tests.
Federal Background Check Requirements: What Shows Up on a Federal Background Check?
The requirements for passing a federal background check will vary based on the positions but there are a few basic requirements that no one can pass a background check without. Mainly, the individual must be a U.S. citizen and have no active warrants. Besides these two, very few jobs will hire individuals with a felony conviction on their record.
Depending on the specific checks on an FBI background check, what shows up will vary dramatically. Even at the lowest level of federal background check, and FBI identity History summary check and nothing else, the check will still be the most thorough that most people will have ever had.
While most pre-employment background checks will often only check for local criminal history information using a name-based search, the FBI check is far more intensive. Any criminal history at all will be present on a federal background check including arrests, charges, dropped charges, convictions, and even sealed records in some cases.
Unlike many jobs where it is possible to hide your criminal history by applying for a job in a state other than where the charges were filed, FBI checks will uncover an individual’s entire criminal history.
What Is a DOD Background Check?
In the past, most background checks were handled by the Office of Personnel Management or OPM. The OPM would handle the background checks in conjunction with the criminal record check that is performed for the OPM by the FBI.
However, many background checks, particularly those involving security clearance will now be performed by the Department of Defense.3 At this time, the background check and procedures will be exactly the same despite being performed by a different agency. Any changes will only be observed by those undergoing background checks for jobs that require a security clearance.
Background Check for Federal Employment: What Does Federal Background Check Consist of for Employment?
Background checks for federal employment may sound intimidating but the vast majority of jobs will have fairly standard background checks.
Although more criminal databases will be checked than most individuals are used to, the check will still be fairly standard for most positions. Like any job, the additional checks will depend on the responsibilities of the position.
How Long Does Federal Background Check Take?
How long does a federal background check take, on average and how long does a background check take for a government job? Federal background checks tend to take longer than most pre-employment background checks. Since most background checks that individuals will undergo for jobs with UPS or Walmart are name-based checks they can be completed in a matter of days using online databases.
Since the FBI criminal history check is a fingerprint-based check there are several additional steps that add days to the process. The individual that is undergoing the check must first fill out paperwork that is usually more extensive than what is required for a standard background check. After this, they must get their fingerprints taken and sent to the FBI.
The fingerprint check and the fact that the FBI deals with thousands of checks means delays are possible but most federal background checks should take about two weeks. As mentioned, jobs that require security clearance and have additional checks required will take far longer and can even take as long as 8 months.
How Far Back Does a Federal Background Check Go?
Many people wondering, what does federal background check consist of, really wonder if a federal background check will uncover old crimes. So, how far back does a federal background check go? The answer depends on the level of security that will be required.
Although some states have the 7-year-rule which prevents criminal history information from more than 7 years ago from showing up on a background check, these are only state laws and federal background checks do not need to abide by these rules. The only laws that federal background checks need to follow are those set by the FCRA,2 which currently has no time constraints for how far back a criminal history check can go. This means an individual’s entire criminal history will be present on the federal employment check.
Does a Federal Background Check Include a Drug Test?
Many federal background checks will include a drug test. Generally, the more important and sensitive the information the individual will have access to, the more likely that passing a drug test will be a requirement for employment. However, it is also possible for entry-level federal government jobs to have drug tests as well.
Related Reading: How to get a federal background check on yourself
Not all federal background checks will include social media but some will. Once again the higher the security clearance that is required the more likely the background check will try and check all aspects of someone’s personal life.
Just like a criminal history check is used to create a safe environment for employees at other jobs, social media checks will be performed for national security reasons for many positions.
What Disqualifies You From Public Trust Clearance?
There are no specific disqualifiers for the public trust clearance that is required for many higher positions in the federal government. This determination is made on a case-by-case basis and is usually the culmination of information on the application, criminal history checks, and various integrity tests and reference checks. This is one of the reasons that checks are so thorough, the background check is used to determine the individual’s integrity which requires delving into their personal life to a certain extent.
What Disqualifies in a Federal Background Check for Employment?
The federal employment background check is somewhat difficult to understand as many of the checks are performed for reasons of national security and are thus kept secret to avoid individuals covering up certain elements of their past that will be looked on unfavorably.
However, most people will have nothing to worry about. The jobs that require intensive checks and investigation of individuals’ personal lives represent only a small percentage of all federal jobs.
Regardless, individuals wondering what does federal background check consist of will likely want to know as many disqualifiers as possible.
Federal Employment Background Check Disqualifiers List
When asking what federal employment background check disqualifiers will apply, the list often depends on the position. Entry-level positions such as those with the USPS will have less intensive checks and a shorter list of disqualifiers. Once again there is no official list of disqualifiers but most disqualifiers are fairly easy to discern based on what kind of checks are being performed.
For example, there is no point in performing a drug test unless a positive test results in disqualification.
|Disqualifier||Likelihood of Disqualification|
|Misdemeanor Conviction||Varies based on crime, often a disqualifier|
|Felony Conviction||Always a disqualifier|
|Substance Abuse (Failed Drug Test)||Always a disqualifier (If drug test performed)|
|Conflict of Interest||Disqualifier for high-level positions|
|Mental Health Disorders||Disqualifier for security-clearance positions|
|Credit History Check Concerns||Disqualifier for positions involving finances|
Homeland Security Background Check Disqualifications
The background check disqualifiers for positions in the Department of Homeland Security are about what most individuals would expect.5 Anything that is found on the background check that poses a direct or indirect threat to national security is seen as a disqualifier. Unlike most federal agencies, there is a specific list of disqualifiers published by the TSA that outlines the exact crimes that are grounds for automatic disqualification.4
Automatic Disqualifiers for Security Clearances
The automatic disqualifiers for Homeland Security positions will be very similar to those for jobs that require a security clearance. The main concern with positions with security clearance is national security, so someone who poses a potential threat should they have access to the proper information will be disqualified.
Can You Pass a Federal Background Check With a Misdemeanor?
It is possible for an individual to pass a background check with a misdemeanor but it is fairly unlikely. In general, it will depend on the misdemeanor, many low-level misdemeanors that are not relevant to the job duties may be overlooked in certain situations but not always. Jobs with a security clearance will likely not overlook misdemeanors.
OPM Background Check Unfavorable Outcome
After an OPM background check has been performed, the results may not be what many people hoped for. Although options are fairly limited it is possible to dispute the results of the check through the OPM. Information about background checks performed by the OPM is available on the OPM website.7
What Does a State Background Check Consist Of?
State background checks are another kind of “elevated” background check that is performed for certain positions. Unlike most pre-employment background checks that focus on local criminal history, a state background check will be slightly more thorough but not as thorough as a federal background check.
A federal background check will usually consist of the following and will be performed by the state police or state bureau of investigation in each state.
- Name and SSN Verification
- Local Criminal History Check (Fingerprint-based)
- National Criminal History Check (Fingerprint-based)
- Federal Criminal History Check (Fingerprint-based)
Federal Background Check vs State (What Does Federal Background Check Consist of That’s Different?)
The main difference between a state and federal background check will be the agency that is performing the check. The local and state check will usually be performed by the state police or whatever state agency is in charge of conducting background checks. The national check will still be performed by the FBI in many cases, leading to a certain level of redundancy as the same records are checked twice.
The checks that are performed on security clearance employees in the federal government are generally absent from a state check which focuses primarily on criminal history, rather than integrity and other less-tangible records.
As opposed to a background check for federal employment, most state background checks will be performed for a specific job that requests it, often with a private employer. Although most companies will outsource their employee background checks to a private third-party company, some will use the state police check as their standard background check. This is especially common with companies that are state contractors.
Besides private employers, all state employees will usually undergo a state-background check, such as teachers, state administrators, state law enforcement, etc.
What Is the Difference Between a BCI and FBI Check?
The difference between a BCI and FBI criminal check is the same as the difference between a federal and state background check. CBI refers to the Criminal Investigation Bureau which is the state agency that is the equivalent of the state police, and it is sometimes referred to as the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI).
Keep in mind there is often overlap between the two checks as many state agencies will still use the FBI identity history summary check as a way to perform national and federal criminal history checks.
Can I Get a Government Background Check Free?
There are a few ways to get a government background check for free. There are a few checks, such as those required for security clearance positions that can not be performed for free, however, it is possible to get a national criminal history check for free using an online background check service that offers a free trial.
Keep in mind that this will not be as thorough as a true FBI criminal history check but will be sufficient for most individuals’ needs.
Before applying for a job with the federal government it is important to perform a background check on yourself so that you can be prepared for any questions about your criminal history and be aware of any mistakes so that individuals can fix their background check in a timely manner.
Where To Find a Government Background Check Form
There are several government background checks that are available to the general public. Simply fill out the necessary forms such as the OPM Questionnaire for National Security or the FBI Identity History Summary Check.6,1
Federal background checks are some of the most intensive background checks available. Knowing what does federal background check consist of will allow individuals to be better prepared for when they are ready to apply for a federal job.
Frequently Asked Questions About What Does Federal Background Check Consist Of