Background Checks for New Applicants

April 17, 2009

Early this year the FBI began a hiring blitz. Thousands have applied.

Audio Transcript

Mr. Schiff: Hello I’m Neal Schiff and welcome to Inside the FBI, a weekly podcast about news, cases, and operations. Early this year the FBI began a hiring blitz. Thousands have applied.

Mr. Gant: “Over 280,000 applications.”

Mr. Schiff: That’s Supervisory Special Agent Mark Gant. He’s the Chief of the FBI’s Initial Clearance Section in the Security Division. A key part of processing of applications for employment with the FBI is the background check. And Gant says it’s “essential.”

Mr. Gant: “No one will enter into the FBI as an employee, contractor, or law enforcement officer without a background investigation.”

Mr. Schiff: Tell me a little bit about the background investigation.

Mr. Gant: “We work very closely with our Human Resources Division. The Human Resources Division identifies individuals that they deemed to try to hire with the FBI. The first initial step for any applicant is the S.F., Standard Form 86, that an individual fills out which goes back approximately 10 years. And we capture information about a person’s background; their history; their date and place of birth; their family; their associates; their employment, and other pertinent information that we then do our background investigation.”

Mr. Schiff: And Gant says agents checking applicants don’t stop there.

Mr. Gant: “Our background investigation is bifurcated. We do a suitability portion and we also do a security portion. The suitability standards are determined by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The security standards are established by the Office of the Directorate of the National Intelligence. We utilize governmental standards in order to qualify our candidates on suitability and security.”

Mr. Schiff: You may be wondering how long background checks take. Could be two to three months or even longer depending on the applicant. And Gant says there are some key areas investigators look at.

Mr. Gant: “The issues that we’re looking at for suitability involve candor issues; individual’s use and/or abuse of intoxicants; their criminal behavior; personal conduct; financial considerations; and employment histories. As it relates to security issues, and we utilize trying to verify a person’s date and place of birth; their citizenship status. We check FBI files and other agency checks and we also verify education, employment, organizations that a person belongs to. We check their references and associates; their relatives; associates and roommates; check their marital status and then try to also assess their associations in their neighborhoods, trying to find out if this person is a true and loyal citizen of the United States.”

Mr. Schiff: We asked Gant about the processing of applications. Depending on each situation, portions of the background may be conducted at other than ones’ local FBI field office; could be several field offices around the country.

Mr. Gant: “Correct. We have 56 field offices throughout the country. In addition to utilizing our field offices, we have our Background Investigative Contract Services (BICS), which is another part of our Security Division that also handles these leads. What my Personnel Security Specialists do is from their S.F. 86, they establish leads; they go out, establish the lead. And the lead is basically an investigation to be conducted. We assign those leads to either the field office or the BICS investigator, the special investigator through BICS, the Background Investigative Contract Services. They go out, cover the lead, and then forward that information back to my Personnel Security Specialists to review, analyze, and make an adjudication whether a person is suitable for security and suitability.”

Mr. Schiff: Is there a polygraph that has to be taken?

Mr. Gant: “Yes. All FBI employees are polygraphed on two issues. The first issue is on drug usage; the second issue is on counterintelligence, national security polygraph. Those are the two issues that all FBI employees have to pass a polygraph on.”

Mr. Schiff: What happens after the background is completed?

Mr. Gant: “After the background is completed, again, my Personnel Security Specialists, they gather all of the information regarding an individual’s background. They then go through what we call the adjudication phase. And in the adjudication phase we get all of the information. The term that we use is ‘the whole person.’ We try to assess the person as a ‘whole’ and not putting too much emphasis on any one particular area that may raise a flag, but try and look at a person as a ‘whole’ and determine their suitability and whether they meet our security standards. Once they have reviewed, gotten all of the information in, they make their adjudication and it’s basically a yes or no call from the Personnel Security Specialists. Then we have various levels of review.”

Mr. Schiff: If you had one message to these several hundred thousand applicants from the Security Division’s standpoint, what would that message be?

Mr. Gant: “The biggest message that I tell anybody that’s applying for the FBI or any other federal government agency is to be truthful. The issue, the concern, that can eliminate anyone’s employment or opportunities for employment is candor. If we find that that information you have provided to us is inaccurate, false, misleading, then at that point we can discontinue an applicant for lack of candor. If an individual has applied for the FBI and is deemed to show lack of candor in any issue during the process, that will eliminate that person from ever applying with the FBI ever again. There are issues; there are certain standards; there may be things in your background that you don’t want us to find out. I assure you we have some of the best investigators; we have, the, I believe, the best adjudicators; we are going to go ahead and try to find out everything about this person so that we bring in the best and the brightest and most suitable to be employees of the FBI.”

Mr. Schiff: If you’ve applied, hang in there. If you want to work for the FBI and you’re qualified, head for your computer, get onto the Internet, visit and the process begins. Good luck to you. That concludes our show. Thanks for listening. I’m Neal Schiff of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs.

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