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Balancing Personal Privacy and Transparency

Agency Use & Retention of Background Investigation Records

NBIB conducts background investigations on civilian and military applicants and Federal employees or employees of government contractors, experts, instructors, and consultants to Federal programs who undergo a personnel background investigation for the purpose of determining suitability for government employment, fitness for appointment to an excepted service position, fitness to perform work under a Government contract, eligibility to serve in a national security sensitive position, acceptance or retention in the armed forces, eligibility for access to classified information, and/or eligibility for logical or physical access to a federally controlled facility or information technology system.

Decentralized Copies: Agency Use & Retention

NBIB shall control the reports, information, and other investigative materials developed during the vetting process. These materials are maintained as part of the OPM Central-9 system of records. When NBIB discloses a record maintained as part of the Central-9 system of records to an agency, the disclosed record shall be considered a “decentralized copy”. The decentralized copy remains a part of the OPM/Central-9 system of records even while the copy is in the recipient agency’s custody; under 5 CFR 297.104(b), all records in Central systems of records are established and maintained by OPM, and under sections 1.1(e) and 1.3(q) of E.O. 13467, as amended, OPM investigative records “developed during the vetting process,” including for “ongoing assessments,” are subject to OPM controls while in use by recipient departments and agencies.

Internal Dissemination of a Decentralized Copy

Recipient departments and agencies may retain and use the decentralized copy (which include the received reports, information, and other investigative material) within that recipient for authorized purposes (including, but not limited to, adjudications, hearings and appeals, continuous evaluation (CE), inspector general functions, counterintelligence, research, and insider threat programs), in compliance with subsection (b)(1) of the Privacy Act of 1974, as amended (section 552a of title 5, United States Code).

While EO 13467 section 1.1(e) allows agencies to release records, “any redisclosure” should be coordinated with the NBIB FOI/PA office to ensure that the redisclosure “…does not violate statutory restrictions or result in unauthorized disclosure….”

If your office intends to share an NBIB background investigation record internally within your agency, and you question the releasability of certain items, you can contact the NBIB FOI/PA office at (724) 794-5612 ext.7000 and ask to speak with a Government Information Specialist in the Records Receipt & Maintenance branch.

As a note of caution, NBIB background investigation records do include items that have been disclosed to NBIB with redisclosure limitations. Even when internally sharing a background investigation, recipient agencies should be mindful of the purpose/need and should be cognizant of the following limitations.

  • Appropriately marked classified material (Top Secret, Secret, Confidential data) may be part of the investigative file. This type of data should only be disclosed if the recipient has a need to know, is properly cleared, and has the appropriate level of investigation and security clearance.
  • Other government agency data and reports. Recipient agencies should accordingly consult directly with that other government agency prior to redisclosing that other government agency’s record to another internal agency component for a purpose other than which it was collected.
  • Financial information protected by either the Fair Credit Reporting Act (e.g., a Credit Report) or the Right to Financial Privacy Act (e.g., FINL items collected with a special OFI-16A release) has redisclosure limitations.
  • FINCEN information is protected by the Bank Secrecy Act.
  • IRS Tax Information collected with a 4506-T release is potentially limited as a result of 26 U.S.C. 6103.
  • Fingerprint Name Check Only results; National Crime Information Center (NCIC) checks; and Interstate Identification Index (Triple I) searches;
    • Law Enforcement / Criminal History Record Information, collected under title 5, U.S.C. 9101(b)(1) is limited. Part 9101(d) indicates redisclosure limitations.
  • Information that is otherwise exempt from release under the Privacy Act or the FOIA.

If a recipient agency has reason to believe an investigative record contains exempt information or information that may be prohibited from redisclosure, the agency should work through NBIB’S FOI/PA Records Receipt & Maintenance branch (phone: (724)794-5612 ext. 7000) prior to disclosing the records. The NBIB FOI/PA office can provide a sanitized copy of the investigative record for the agency to disclose internally.

External Dissemination of a Decentralized Copy to a Subject for the Purpose of Providing Procedural Rights or Administrative Due Process

Recipient departments and agencies may only release a decentralized record to an investigative subject for the purpose of providing procedural rights or administrative due process, in compliance with EO 13467, section 1.1(e), as amended, and subsection (d) of the Privacy Act of 1974, as amended (section 552a of title 5, United States Code).

Recipient agencies shall direct any other requests for external releases of copies of the reports, information, or other investigative materials to the NBIB FOI/PA office. NBIB’s FOI/PA office will make a release determination by applying the routine uses described in Central 9 or other uses permitted in 5 U.S.C. 552a(b); or, in the case of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) referral, by applying the FOIA.

While EO 13467 section 1.1(e) allows agencies to release records, any redisclosure should be coordinated with the NBIB FOI/PA office to ensure that any redisclosure “…does not violate statutory restrictions or result in unauthorized disclosure….”

The received investigative information may include items disclosed to NBIB with redisclosure limitations. Agencies should be cautious of:

  • Classified material such as Top Secret, Secret, Confidential, even if the Subject already has a clearance
  • Information that would reveal the identity of a source granted confidentiality
  • Sensitive or Restricted Medical information as denoted at 5 CFR 297.205. If a subject’s investigation includes sensitive medical data annotated as releasable only through another medical provider, recipient agencies should work through NBIB’S Freedom of Information and Privacy Act (FOI/PA) office prior to disclosing these records to a subject
  • Other government agency data and reports. Recipient agencies must accordingly consult directly with that other government agency prior to disclosing that other government agency’s record to their subjects.
  • Fingerprint Name Check Only results; National Crime Information Center (NCIC) checks; and Interstate Identification Index (Triple I) searches;
  • Information that would reveal FINCEN as the source of the information provided
  • Law Enforcement information containing specific restrictive language unless requested pursuant to section 9101(b)(1) of title 5, U.S.C.
    • Part 9101(d) indicates criminal history record information received under (b)(1) shall be made available to the individual to who is the subject of such information upon request.
  • Information that is otherwise exempt from release under the Privacy Act or the FOIA. If the agency has reason to believe an investigative record contains exempt information, the agency should work through NBIB’S FOI/PA office prior to disclosing these records to a subject. As explained below, the NBIB FOI/PA office can provide a sanitized copy of the investigative record for the agency to disclose to the subject.
  • Information concerning other persons (3rd party information)
  • OPM test material that includes reference to actual scoring, rating, or examining criteria

NBIB’s FOI/PA office can, if the agency requests, prepare a version of the background investigation report for release to the subject for due process or procedural purposes, such as the “materials relied upon”. The request can be emailed to FOIPARequests@nbib.gov, faxed to (724) 794-4590, or sent to NBIB at the following address:

National Background Investigations Bureau
Freedom of Information and Privacy Act office
Supervisory Government Information Specialist
PO Box 618
1137 Branchton Road
Boyers, PA 16018-0618

Privacy Act Access or Amendment Requests

Under 5 CFR 297.105(c), only NBIB’s FOI/PA office can respond to initial Privacy Act requests for records in an OPM Central system of records. If an agency receives, from the subject of investigation, a request for access or amendment, the agency should contact the OPM NBIB FOI/PA office and refer that request to NBIB’s FOI/PA office accordingly.

Release of the following items may be made to the subject of investigation without first requesting permission from the NBIB FOI/PA:

  • the individual’s credit report
  • the individual’s fingerprint results (fingerprint results only, not any name-based search results from the FBI)
  • the individual’s copy of their completed Standard Form, if the recipient agency is the agency that initiated
  • the individual within the electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (e-QIP) system

Retention of a Decentralized Copy

Decentralized copies shall be retained consistent with the guidance defined in applicable NARA General Records Schedules.  Under NARA General Records 5.6, section 170, investigative reports and related documents furnished to an agency by NBIB should be destroyed in accordance with NBIB’s instructions.  

NBIB instructs that the records may be maintained only so long as the subject of the report remains of interest to the agency for the purposes defined in the Central 9 SORN (e.g. suitability, security, credentialing purposes).  Upon separation or when the subject is no longer of interest to the agency, the agency must dispose of any/all background investigation records.

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