What is a Public Trust Security Clearance?

Written by S. Arteta and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

A Public Trust Security Clearance refers to a status granted to individuals which allows them to gain access to classified information such as state secrets and military classified data. They also may gain access to restricted areas after the completion of a thorough background check.

In the United States, a security clearance is granted to individuals recognized to be under maximum level of clearance. The clearance is issued to federal employees of various agencies whose positions directly or indirectly affect the public at large. In the U.S. there are three levels of public trust security clearances which are high, moderate and low. These levels reflect the potential risk to the employing agency and the general public. The federal agencies designate the specific levels of security clearances which are at par with the level of responsibility entrusted to the position.

High Public Trust Positions include upper managerial positions, offices responsible of running major programs, and positions related to policy development and implementation, law enforcement officers or any other position that requires the carrying of weapons. Moderate-risk positions, on the other hand, refers to those which pose a moderate to serious threat to the public welfare. These include policy assistants, mid-level management, positions which involve independent actions and service positions which require public trust. The third classification is the low-risk position which generally involve duties with a limited effect on the employing agency such as housekeeping, food service and other support positions.

Public trust positions include those which are responsible for policy making, law enforcement, fiduciary management, public health and safety or any other activity which involves the public welfare. These positions are considered as trust positions since they have access to sensitive data such as financial or personal records and other matters which can be manipulated to cause physical or financial harm to the public in general or to the controlling agency.

The controlling authority for public trust security clearance investigations is the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The investigations are conducted by the OPM or through an authorized investigating agency. The Office of the Personnel Management is responsible for setting up the guidelines and implementation of the federal employment suitability programs and processes. It also conducts investigations of contract employees which requires a clearance.

The OPM's level of investigation varies with the level of clearance sought. Minimum investigative level includes a National Agency Check with Inquiries or NACI. The investigation includes a detailed examination of the individual's employment, education, residence and other personal information.

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