Federal Contractors: It's Time to Brush Up on Your Public Trust and Suitability Knowledge

John Brooke
December 14, 2021

One of the most important ways to protect security and privacy is to hire the right people and to put them in the right positions.

When it comes to handling finances, overseeing sensitive processes, working with information technology, handling health data, managing compliance, and protecting assets (including people), it takes responsible and knowledgeable employees. 

And each position comes with its own suitability requirements. We're going to focus on those positions that require access to information at high to moderate risk levels: “Public Trust” positions. 

What is public trust?

What is a public trust? Here’s how the government Office of Personnel Management officially describes it:


From 5 CFR 731.106 - (b) Public Trust positions. Positions at the high or moderate risk levels would normally be designated as ‘‘Public Trust’’ positions. Such positions may involve policy making, major program responsibility, public safety and health, law enforcement duties, fiduciary responsibilities or other duties demanding a significant degree of public trust, and positions involving access to or operation or control of financial records, with a significant risk for causing damage or realizing personal gain.


Public trust determinations are requested for applicants whose positions will require access to information at the high- or moderate-risk levels, based upon duties and responsibilities of the position.  

A public trust background investigation will include many aspects of a full security clearance investigation.

Low-risk/non-sensitive determinations are requested for applicants whose positions have low-risk levels, also in accordance with the duties and responsibilities of their particular position.

What do federal contractors need to know?

Public trust is a huge problem for many private companies, and it’s rapidly expanding. If your company does work in any number of somewhat sensitive areas like finance, IT, contracting, compliance, personnel, or health care, you probably have employees covered by public trust. 

And that means you have significant responsibilities. 

As a government contractor, let’s dig into what that means in general and for you as you navigate hiring the right employees for the right jobs according to not only their level of skill, but also their level of risk.

Per the SF 85P Questionnaire for Public Trust Positions (a form used by the U.S. government to conduct an examination of people under consideration for certain positions), a suitable background investigation is mandatory so that employers can be certain the potential hire is both eligible and suitable for the level of security of the position.

In terms of process, managers will work with HR to designate positions as public trust positions or National Security.

Here are a few examples of public trust positions:

  • Federal police officers.
  • Contracts managers.
  • Network engineers
  • Healthcare workers
  • Immigration, customs, borders and port protection agents.
  • Comptrollers.
  • Public safety and health workers.

What’s the criteria for public trust suitability?

Here’s what the background investigation process will be looking for.

  • Negligence or misconduct in employment.
  • Dishonest or criminal conduct.
  • Fraud, deception, or intentionally making a false statement in an examination or appointment.
  • Refusing to provide testimony required for the investigation.
  • Alcohol abuse of a nature and duration which interferes with the applicant or appointee doing the job they were hired to do, or that would be a direct threat to others.
  • Illegal use of narcotics, drugs, or other controlled substances, without any evidence or substantial rehabilitation.
  • Willing engagement (including knowledge of) activities or acts that are intending to overthrow the U.S. government.
  • Any regulatory or statutory bar that would prohibit the legitimate employment of the person being investigated.

Why is it important?

The proper designation for both the risk level of a position and the suitability of the person/people hired to sit in those positions is vital for maintaining security. 

Just like the example shared above, a risky hire will open your organization up to greater threats than a less problematic hire would.

ThreatSwitch helps you navigate public trust suitability

ThreatSwitch helps companies manage public trust obligations for the full lifecycle of the employee – starting before they are hired, through the application process, until they are employed, and their reporting obligations during employment. 

ThreatSwitch is the software platform to help federal contractors manage, maintain, and report on their public trust suitability.

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