Background Investigations

A Guide to Position Designation and Investigation Type

There is still a lot of confusion out there about what type of investigation is needed for a particular position and whether it results in a security clearance. Do you know if the job you applied for is low risk with no clearance, public trust with no clearance, or a national security position? Amazingly enough, many applicants don’t know the answer to this question. To be fair, many job announcements are not exactly clear about what the sensitivity of the position, only that you have to pass a background investigation. Now that the National Background Investigation Bureau is in full swing and all of the transition periods to the new tiered system are complete, I thought I would simplify it using correct terminology so that applicants who are required to undergo background investigation know what exactly is required and can ask the right questions.

Here is a table that shows position designation, the corresponding type of investigation needed, the reinvestigation type, and type of form used:

Position Designation (Sensitivity + Risk Level) Clearance Level Initial Investigation PR Form Used
Special-Sensitive (automatic High Risk) Top Secret with SCI Access TIER 5 TIER 5R SF86
Critical-Sensitive (automatic High Risk) Top Secret TIER 5 TIER 5R SF86
Non-critical Sensitive (with High Risk Public Trust duties) Secret TIER 5 TIER 5R SF86
Non-critical Sensitive (automatic Moderate Risk)) Secret TIER3 TIER 3R SF86
Non-sensitive Public Trust (High Risk) no clearance TIER 4 TIER 4R SF85P
Non-sensitive Public Trust (Moderate Risk) no clearance TIER 2 TIER 2R SF85P
Non-sensitive Low Risk no clearance TIER 1 NONE SF85


  1. hi Marko
    i have a quick question
    my background investigation for OPM is on going right now, and mine was one of those
    non-sensitive public trust (high risk) no clearance tier 4
    i have been searching and looking into every page i could find what this tier level 4, and i guess this is pretty new?
    i tried freedom line and uscis staff and they do not know what this tier level 4 is.
    i was wondering what goes through during this tier level 4 background investigation.
    Thank you

  2. This is good info @marko.hakamaa and thanks for putting it out… I think it still evolving somewhat. But no guarantee that HR understands this stuff any better when it comes to writing job postings.

  3. The T4 replaced the old BI type investigation. It involves the standard checks and credit along with interviews of employers, references, neighbors, and subject interview.

  4. Thank you! I appreciate the answer.

  5. Hi, I have a questions regarding the investigation part.
    I recently accepted a Background Investigator position
    and was told I would need a security clearance. I thinks its
    just confidential level but im not sure. For this level,
    how far back will they investigate? and what avenues
    do they use to do their investigation? do they have access
    to looking into like text messages, emails, internet history or
    like access to my icloud? or laptop or phone hard drive? Social media?
    I also recently passed a level 2 background check, is it similar? do they have access
    to medical information or history?

  6. Federal background investigators (and contractors) are T5 background investigations.