What Is a Public Trust Security Clearance?

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There’s no such thing as a public trust security clearance. However, a public trust clearance is similar in many ways to a security clearance and may involve some of the same processes. Here’s what you should know about these.

What Is a Public Trust Clearance?

A public trust clearance is an investigation into a person who will hold a position of public trust, which broadly includes senior managerial roles, active law enforcement, policymaking, fiduciary management, and anything else broadly affecting public safety.

Most people in these positions require access to some amount of sensitive information to make good decisions. This could include statistics not available to the general public, financial and budgeting data, or even military information.

This determination is not a clearance in the same way a security clearance is, but most people refer to it as such for convenience.

Are There Different Levels of Public Trust Clearances?

Yes. The Government currently recognizes three primary levels for public trust clearances.

High-risk positions include most senior roles, such as offices responsible for large programs or notable policy development. Any job that often requires carrying a weapon, such as law enforcement, also falls into this category.

Moderate-risk positions include lower-level roles that involve serious threats or concerns to public welfare. This can include many mid-level management roles, jobs that require acting with little or no oversight, and many service positions.

Low-risk roles typically have minimal effect on the public. This includes many janitorial positions, food service, and so on.

Regardless of risk levels, any public trust position usually has an opportunity to cause financial or physical harm to either the public or the agency if powers are abused. Preventing this is one reason that public trust clearances are a requirement for many roles.

How Does Someone Get a Public Trust Clearance?

In most cases, someone who needs a public trust clearance will go through the United States’ Office of Personnel Management. In some cases, OPM may choose to let another agency handle the investigation, but this is more a matter of practicality.

The exact nature of a public trust clearance check will vary depending on things like how sensitive and how risky the role is. However, most people can expect a detailed investigation of their employment history, a look at their education and housing, and a detailed quiz of personal information.

More sensitive roles will also assess someone’s overall stability and trustworthiness, discretion, honesty, judgment, and loyalty. Problems in any of these areas can disqualify a person from receiving a clearance.

As a general rule, the more sensitive a position is, the more in-depth an investigation for the clearance will be.

What Are the Differences Between Security Clearances and Public Trusts?

The main difference between security clearances and a public trust is that public trust roles generally have no access to classified information. The role may still technically deal with sensitive material, such as having access to the names, birthdays, and housing locations of agency employees, but that’s not the same thing as classified material.

Public trust positions usually match security clearances in levels, so a moderate-risk public trust role is similar to a Secret security clearance role.

This means that someone with a security clearance of a matching or higher level is usually fine if they move to a similar role. For example, if someone with a Top Secret clearance moves to a moderate-risk public trust role, they may not need to go through additional checks for the position.

However, security clearances are usually more in-depth, so someone who has a high-risk public trust role will probably need to go through another check even if they’re moving into a lower-risk role that requires a security clearance.

How Long Does It Take To Get a Public Trust Clearance?

The amount of time a public trust clearance takes depends on many factors, including the risk level of the role and the complexity of an applicant’s life. For many people, this can take between six and twelve months for full clearance.

Most people will get an interim determination within a few weeks of starting the process. An interim determination allows someone to start working and essentially says that there are no immediate red flags that should stop the process.

Do You Need To Be a Citizen for a Public Trust Clearance?

That depends on the role. While you must be a citizen to get a security clearance, you can usually get up to a moderate risk public trust clearance without citizenship.

What Is Reinvestigation?

Reinvestigation is a process that public trust and security clearance roles go through on a predetermined schedule, usually every few years. This check is to help ensure that people in sensitive positions still meet the requirements of these roles and haven’t had any lifestyle changes that could threaten their job.

Are Public Trust Clearances Necessary for All Government Jobs?

No. The government has plenty of non-sensitive positions, which don’t require any special clearance. The government will still perform law enforcement checks and other basic diligence when hiring, but these checks are usually easy to pass.

What Should I Do When Applying for a Public Trust Clearance?

There are a few basic steps to follow.

First, be honest. Lying during the investigation is a federal offense that can lead to fines or imprisonment. It can also bar you from the position you’re seeking. Being straightforward about past problems shows that you are honest, improving your chances of getting the clearance.

Second, live in the United States, including its territories. Most federal positions require you to spend more than three of the last five years living in the country. Federal jobs that require living overseas, such as many military jobs, are exempt from this requirement.

Third, fill out as much information as possible. The more information you provide on each form, the better. If an agency has to spend more time investigating or tracking down people to talk to, that can slow the completion of your clearance.

Finally, avoid conflicts of interest. If there is any point where you may be on the opposite side of the government, that could delay your hiring.

When in doubt, ask a suitable individual for advice on how to proceed.


Reference Legal Explanations

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  • " What Is a Public Trust Security Clearance?". Legal Explanations. Accessed on June 14, 2024. https://legal-explanations.com/blog/what-is-a-public-trust-security-clearance/.

  • " What Is a Public Trust Security Clearance?". Legal Explanations, https://legal-explanations.com/blog/what-is-a-public-trust-security-clearance/. Accessed 14 June, 2024

  • What Is a Public Trust Security Clearance?. Legal Explanations. Retrieved from https://legal-explanations.com/blog/what-is-a-public-trust-security-clearance/.