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What is a Public Trust Security Clearance?

Public Trust Security Clearance

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 the 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 that are at par with the level of responsibility entrusted to the position.

How Do I Check On My Security Clearance Status?

Public Trust Security Levels

High Public Trust Positions include upper managerial positions, offices responsible for 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, refer to those which pose a moderate to a serious threat to the public welfare. These include policy assistants, mid-level management, positions that involve independent actions, and service positions that require public trust. The third classification is the low-risk position which generally involves 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 policymaking, law enforcement, fiduciary management, public health, and safety, or any other activity which involves 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.

Public Trust Security

How To Conduct A Public Trust Security Clearance Investigation?

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 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 the investigation varies with the level of clearance sought. A 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
  • Any other personal information


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.