Sample Law Paper on U.S Personnel Security Investigations


Personnel security investigations are conducted for federal employees who work in positions where they are most likely to have access to certain sensitive information. The access authorization is characterized as either Q access or L access authorization, and each has its own characteristics. In the present paper, the objective was to understand the types of personnel security investigations (PSI) and to determine the process of PSI. The conclusion drawn is that there are various types of PSI implemented depending on the attributes of the subject and the type of information access they are seeking.


The U.S Personnel Security Program is founded on the Civil Service Act of 1883, which was established to ensure that all applicants for federal employment positions were investigated to determine their character, trustworthiness and reputation as the basis of employment screening. Various acts have been established following the 1883 act that have continued to shape the implementation and scope of personnel security programs in the U.S. Currently, personnel security investigations are carried out on federal employees to ensure that those who have access to sensitive information are loyal, trustworthy and reliable. The initial determination of role suitability is based on the level of information access required as well as other factors. In some instances, the commanding officers to whom the personnel are attached may request for information other than what the minimum required investigation can provide. All personnel security investigations (PSI) are conducted by the Defense Investigative Service (DIS) or the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) (Flyer, 1988). Any other party is prohibited from conducting a PSI unless authorized directly by the DIS.

PSIs have many variables and many factors under consideration, and understanding the nature and scope of such investigations calls for a detailed consideration of the process and methods of personnel security investigations. In the present study, the objective is to focus on existing literature as a source of exploratory information that would help in understanding the nature of PSI. The specific questions to be addressed by this study include:

  • What are the main types of PSI used in the U.S today?
  • What is the general process for conducting a PSI as applied by the DIS?

To answer these questions, two hypotheses were developed:

  1. Different types of PSI are used in different contexts and to accomplish different objectives.
  2. Although there are many PSI types, the general method is almost similar while the objectives are different from one PSI to another.

Literature Review

Different approaches to PSI exist and are applied differently depending on the objective of the investigations. According to USAID (2011), most of the investigations are conducted by the DOE. This implies that the investigating body has the opportunity to choose amongst a variety of investigation methodologies based on the roles expected of the personnel under investigation. For the DOE, the first type of investigation conducted is the Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI). This investigation covers the most recent 10 years of the participant’s life, and is an extensive background check. The activities involved in this investigation include an individual’s background check, interviews, spousal or cohabitants’ check. A single scope background investigation – periodic re-investigation (SSBI-PR) is another version of the SSBI in which the most recent five years of the personnel’s life are investigated. A credit search as well as search with federal agencies is conducted as part of the process for individuals who hold Q- access authorizations (USAID, 2011).

Alternatively, the PSI can be characterized as a national agency check with law and credit (NACLC). In this case, a credit search and a fingerprints search at FBI are conducted for contractor employees in need of L-access authorization. As well as for the re-investigation of all employees who already hold the L-access authorization. Another type of PSI is referred to as the access national agency check and inquiries (ANACI). This type of check is conducted at law enforcement and appropriate federal agencies (Festa, 2012). The individual’s fingerprints are classified with the FBI and written enquiries conducted with the person’s past employers, schools, the residences and the stated references. As the NACLC, ANACI is also used for the initial investigation of federal employees who require authorization for L-access. An investigation may be upgraded to a more intensive one in case the subject appears to have certain derogatory issues. In this case, a more extensive investigation would be conducted to satisfy particular needs of the case. Moreover, other investigating bodies could also conduct an investigation and the reports accepted in lieu of the PSI. For instance, the reports by the defense security service or a state department could be acceptable provided they meet the scope as well as the extent of the intended PSI and it was completed covering the most recent five years of the subject’s life (Flyer, 1988).

The choice of the most viable PSI type for a particular case, is one of the factors considered during the planning of a PSI planning. According to Montaquila & Godwin (2016), the availability of significant information from the social media has resulted in lack of standardized procedures for conducting background investigations on federal employees. In most cases, data is obtained from the social media networks which would not have been used in the past. Montaquila and Godwin further assert that a recent investigations manual issued by state peace officer accreditation organizations proved the argument that there was no particular process for PSI completion. Young (2017) also purported that federal agencies now have so much access to information such that it raises a call for further information to be obtained. Additionally, it has exposed the government agencies to sufficient information that they are capable of even predicting the future of individuals based on the information they obtain from the social networking sites. From this information, it is clear that for the federal and state citizens to continuously develop trust in the system, they have to be assured of security. In particular, Young mentions the limitations that such access to information has on the security of federal whistle blowers.


To accomplish the study objectives, a qualitative secondary research methodology was adopted. The current research is an exploratory research that requires a review of standardized procedures to gain understanding of what happens during a PSI. Since the standardized procedures are documented for implementation, the choice of secondary research as a strategy was justified. Secondary research provides access to information from a variety of past researches that not only describe the phenomenon under consideration but also explore its implications. The qualitative enquiry procedure can be described as an observation from the secondary sources. The selection of sources for this research was also based on criteria, which included confirmation of accuracy and validity and adherence to the research ethical practices. The conventional approach in secondary research is to use systematic literature reviews as a source of information. The same procedure was undertaken in the present study, by accessing past studies on PSI and its process.

Findings and Analysis

Through the study, the research questions have been effectively addressed and it can be concluded that the study has been successful. The first question was in relation to the different types of PSI available and the distinctions between them. Various studies have shown that the specific type of PSI to apply in a case is determined by the case characteristics namely the expected role of the individual in the federal system and the type of information access to be allowed. Individuals who need Q access authorization have lower PSI intensities compared to those who have L access to information. Another factor that influences the intensity of the investigations is the characteristics of the individual under investigation. Individuals with details of a derogatory past require a more intensive PSI process and an upgrade may be required. In the second question, it has been established that in the contemporary times, there is no explicit process for conducting the PSIs. This is based on the argument that there is a lot of information via social networking sites, which limits both the capability of federal agencies to whistle blow and also the capability of the employees to cover up some information. Therefore, social media has not only fostered investigations, but has also made the process scarier.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The objectives of the study were to determine the types of PSI and the process of conducting PSI on federal employees. Understanding the types of PSI is instrumental in getting to know whether the process one is undergoing is valid or not. The process on the other hand, has been more challenging to understand given that the use of social media as a source of investigation information has been impactful on the investigating bodies and the subjects of those investigations. Although the study has accomplished its objectives, it can be seen that it was limited in scope as well as in the study methodology.




Festa, J.P. (2012). New technologies and emerging threats: Personnel security adjudicative guidelines in the age of social networking. Masters’ Thesis: Naval Postgraduate School. Retrieved from

Flyer, E.S. (1988). Personnel security research: Prescreening and background investigations. Office of Naval Research. Retrieved from

Montaquila, J.M. & Godwin, C.N. (2016). Personnel security and open source intelligence: Employing social media analytics in pre-employment screening and selection. Journal of Information Privacy and Security, 12(3), 145- 159. Retrieved from

USAID (2011). ADS chapter 566: Personnel security investigations and clearances. USAID for the American People. Retrieved from

Young, S. (2017). Slipping through the cracks: Background investigations after Snowden. Surveillance & Society, 15(1), 123- 136. Retrieved from…/slip/