Career Advice

Personnel Security Terms and Definitions

In the security clearance and background investigation world there are quite a few terms used that may cause confusion for those not familiar with the lexicon used by personnel security specialists and investigators. Below are typical terms and definitions used in personnel security and investigations processing.

Security TermDefinition
(1) AccessAuthority that allows an individual to obtain knowledge of, or access to, classified information, materials, or work areas.
(2) AdjudicationAn examination of a person’s character or conduct over time, resulting in a favorable or unfavorable determination of their employment suitability, eligibility for access to classified information, materials, or areas, or for their retention in Federal employment.
(3) AdjudicatorA trained personnel security specialist who evaluates background investigations and other pertinent information to make employment suitability and national security eligibility determinations.
(4) Adverse InformationInformation that adversely reflects on a person’s character, integrity or reliability that suggests that their ability to safeguard sensitive information may be impaired, or that their employment and national security eligibility is not in the best interest of the U.S. Goverment. For example, a history of misbehavior, i.e., drug abuse, criminal activity, employment misconduct, etc.
(5) ApplicantA person who is being considered or has been considered for employment or a security clearance.
(6) AppointeeA person who has entered on duty and is in the first year of a subject-to-investigation appointment.
(7) Background InvestigationAn official examination of facts or other pertinent information that covers a defined period of normally no more than 10 years. The information is compiled from a review of various records, interview with the subject, and interviews with persons who have knowledge of the subject. The information collected must be sufficient to allow an affirmative or negative determination of a person’s eligibility and suitability to work for the Federal Government.
(8) Classified InformationInformation requiring protection against unauthorized disclosure (marked CONFIDENTIAL, SECRET, or TOP SECRET when in documentary form, to indicate its classified status), pursuant to Executive Orders 12958 and 12968.
(9) Core DutyA continuing responsibility that is of particular importance to the relevant covered position or the achievement of an agency’s mission.
(10) Covered PositionA position in the competitive service, a position in the excepted service where the incumbent can be noncompetitively converted to the competitive service, and a career appointment to a position in the Senior Executive Service.
(11) Credit CheckA credit history report conducted on the subject of a background investigation. The report contains financial information collected from creditors, lenders, and public records and organized by credit bureaus or other credit reporting services.
(12) EmployeeA person who has completed the first year of a subject-to-investigation appointment.
(13) Federal Tax CompliantFederal tax returns are timely and accurately filed and timely payment of taxes without penalties or interest.
(14) Fingerprint CheckAlso referred to as a criminal history record or rap sheet – Is a listing of specific information taken from fingerprint submissions retained by the FBI in connection with arrests and, in some instances, federal employment, naturalization, or military service.
(15) Foreign NationalAn individual who is not a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident authorized to reside in the U.S.
(16) High Risk PositionA final position designation assessment reflecting the potential for exceptionally serious impact, critical to an agency program or mission or the integrity or efficiency of the service.
(17) Low Risk PositionA final position designation assessment reflecting the potential for limited impact on an agency program or mission or the integrity or efficiency of the service.
(18) MaterialIn reference to a statement, one that is capable of influencing, affects, or has a natural tendency to affect, an official decision even if OPM or an agency does not rely upon it.
(19) Moderate Risk PositionA final position designation assessment reflecting the potential for moderate to serious impact on an agency program or mission or the integrity or efficiency of the service.
(20) Defense Counterintelligence & Security Agency (DCSA)Established by ODNI as the primary service provider for conducting effective and efficient background investigations for security clearance eligibility, employment suitability, fitness to perform work for or on behalf of the Federal Government.
(21) National Security PositionA position that (1) involves activities of the Government that are concerned with the protection of the nation from foreign aggression or espionage, including development of defense plans or policies, intelligence or counter intelligence activities, and related activities concerned with the preservation of the military strength of the United States, and/or (2) requires regular use of, or access to, classified information.
(22) Office of Personnel Management (OPM)OPM is an independent Federal agency that works in numerous broad areas to recruit and retain a first-rate Federal workforce. One function is to provide investigative services for Federal agencies to use as the basis for employee suitability, contractor fitness, and security clearance eligibility across the Federal Government.
(23) Periodic ReinvestigationAn investigation that is required every five years for contractor employees who perform work for or on behalf of the Federal Government and are in positions designated high and moderate risk.
(24) Personally Identifiable Information (PII)Also considered Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU) information. Information that is linked or linkable to an individual that must be protected to prevent the possibility of identity theft or invasion of privacy.
(25) Personnel Security (PS)An organization comprised of security specialists that are engaged in the formulation and application of security policies and procedures involving the trustworthiness and loyalty of persons employed with the Federal Government in sensitive and non-sensitive positions.
(26) Position Designation tool (PDT)A logical questionnaire-based system designed by OPM to guide agencies in determining the proper level of investigation and screening required based on an assessment of risk and national security sensitivity.
(27) Position SensitivityA risk designation based on an assessment of the degree of damage that an individual, by virtue of the occupancy of a position, could have an effect on the “efficiency of the service.”
(28) Privileged AccessAdministrator or root access to DS, DSTEST and IRSNET domains that contain highly sensitive, critical information. See IRM for examples of DS and IRSNET domains.
(29) Public Trust PositionThe category of positions, at the moderate or high risk levels involving a significant degree of public trust (such as policy making or major program responsibilities, fiduciary responsibility, law enforcement positions, public safety and health duties).
(30) ReciprocityRecognition and acceptance of prior favorable fitness determination by another federal agency, without further processing when the determination was based on equivalent criteria used by gaining agency; i.e., investigation meets or exceeds required position risk level, investigation completed within last two years, no break in service since the last favorable determination.
(31) Security ClearanceCertification issued by a designated personnel security official or designee that grants an individual access to classified information, on a need-to-know basis, up to the required classification level (Top Secret, Secret, or Confidential) to perform official duties.
(32) Security ItemsItems that must be stored in a locked container, security container, or a secure room. These items include, but not limited to security devices/records, computer equipment, Identification media. For details, see IRM, Minimum Protection Standards.
(33) Sensitive but Unclassified Information (SBU)Any sensitive information (including tax and tax-related information) that requires protection due to the risk and magnitude of loss or harm to the IRS or the privacy to which individuals are entitled under Section 552a of Title 5, United States Code (the Privacy Act), which could result from inadvertent or deliberate disclosure, alteration, or destruction.
(34) Sensitive PositionPositions that the occupant could bring about, by virtue of the nature of the position, a material adverse effect on the national security, whether the occupant has access to classified information.
(35) Suitability ActionAn action described in 5 CFR 731.203 (cancellation of eligibility, removal, cancellation of reinstatement eligibility, debarment) that may be taken by OPM or an agency with delegated authority under the procedures in 5 CFR 731 subparts C and D.
(36) Suitability DeterminationA decision by OPM or an agency with delegated authority that a person is suitable or is not suitable for employment in covered positions in the Federal Government or a specific Federal agency.
(37) U.S. CitizenA person born in the U.S. or its territories, or born in a foreign country to U.S. born parents are U.S. citizens by birth. A person not born in the U.S. can voluntarily become a naturalized U.S. citizen once all eligibility requirements are met. Also, a minor can derive U.S. citizenship following the naturalization of one of both parents.