The Inspections Division, Office of the Inspector General, at the request of the Director, Bureau of Prisons (BOP), reviewed the BOP background investigation and reinvestigation program. This review determined whether BOP is in compliance with relevant regulations and whether BOP is managing the background investigation and reinvestigation program in an effective manner. See Appendix I for details on scope and methodology.

The BOP is charged with protecting society by confining federal prisoners. To do this requires that the BOP hires and retains employees who can be placed in positions of public trust. Over 99 percent of BOP's positions are designated as public trust positions because of the duties that BOP employees perform. While this inspection did not focus exclusively on one occupational category, correctional officers comprise the largest portion of the BOP employee population -- approximately 42 percent. It is important that correctional officers exhibit a high degree of integrity in the performance of their duties because they have day-to-day contact with federal prisoners.


Every federal agency has established a program to ensure that employment and retention of employees is consistent with the interests of national security, namely to hire and retain federal employees who are reliable, trustworthy, and of good character. Consequently, each agency must conduct a background investigation (BI) on prospective federal employees and recurring BIs on those employees who wish to be retained. Recurring background investigations are conducted periodically and are commonly referred to as reinvestigations (RI). To be effective, BIs and RIs should be timely and detect employees who are not suitable for a particular federal position.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has broad oversight authority under Executive Order 10450 for the federal employee personnel security program. The OPM promulgates this authority primarily through policies contained in 5 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 731, “Suitability;” Part 732, “National Security Positions;” and Part 736, “Personnel Investigations.” The OPM has a contract with the US Investigations Services, Inc., (USIS) for conducting BIs and RIs. The OPM maintains BI and RI investigation information on federal employees in a database called the Personnel Investigation Processing System (PIPS). Once USIS investigators complete a background investigation, they send an investigative report with an evaluation of investigative results to the requesting agency. The USIS contract investigators are also responsible for updating the PIPS with investigative information on each employee.

All federal agencies designate sensitivity levels for each of their positions and each sensitivity level has a specific BI requirement. Each agency determines sensitivity levels based on the degree of public trust associated with the duties of the position or the need for access to national security information (NSI). Employees in positions designated as public trust have duties that may potentially affect the integrity, efficiency, and effectiveness of government activities. Employees in positions designated as special-sensitive and critical-sensitive have access to NSI.

In BOP over 99 percent of the positions are designated as public trust positions; and less than 1 percent are designated as sensitive positions. BIs for public trust positions vary in coverage for different risk levels. For example, a high-risk public trust position requires a Limited Background Investigation (LBI).1 A LBI consists of a personal subject interview; employment, education, and residence verification; law enforcement inquiries; and National Agency Checks.2 Moderate risk and low risk public trust positions require less BI coverage while sensitive positions require more. The following table shows position sensitivity level, type of BI conducted for each level, NSI access level, and the frequency of the RI within the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Table I: Personnel Security in the Department of Justice

Position Sensitivity Level Type of Background Investigation National Security Information Access Level Frequency of the Reinvestigation
Special-Sensitive Single-scope background investigation Top Secret 5 years
Critical-Sensitive Access National Agency Check and Inquiries Secret and Confidential 5 years
Public Trust High Risk Limited Background Investigation None 5 years
Public Trust Moderate Risk Minimum Background Investigation None 5 years
Public Trust Low Risk National Agency Check and Inquiries None None

Sources: DOJ Memorandum on Update on Personnel Security Issues, dated February 27, 1998, and BOP Memorandum on Background Investigation Updates, dated August 21, 1998.


The BOP is experiencing significant growth, with the number of institutions increasing from 69 in 1992 to 92 in 1998 -- a 25 percent increase. Similarly, the number of authorized employee positions within the BOP has increased from 25,842 in 1992 to 35,376 in 1998 -- almost a 27 percent increase. The BOP projected it would need to conduct 4,739 BIs and 6,952 RIs in 1997 at an estimated cost of $9.5 million and $7.3 million, respectively. For FY 1998, the BOP projected it would need to conduct 3,313 BIs at a cost of $6.6 million and 5,254 RIs at a cost of $5.8 million.

The SEPS managed the BOP personnel security program until September 1992 when it delegated that authority to the BOP.3 In November 1992, the BOP established the Security and Background Investigation Section (SBIS) to centrally manage and monitor the BOP personnel security program. The SBIS is staffed by about 17 employees, including security specialists.

The Chief, SBIS, is the Security Officer for the BOP and is responsible for issuing BOP-wide guidance and procedures for the proper background investigation of all BOP employees. The Chief, SBIS, follows specific procedural guidance contained in BOP Program Statement 3000.02, “Human Resources Management.” The Chief, SBIS, ensures that all BIs are reviewed and all derogatory issues revealed in OPM investigative reports are resolved. The 5 CFR, Part 732, “National Security Positions,” and DOJ Order 2610.2A, “Employment Security Regulations,” both specify that adjudications of BIs and RIs should be concluded 90 days after OPM investigative reports have been completed. The SBIS monitors BIs and RIs that exceed this 90-day standard and provides a quarterly report on these late adjudications to the SEPS.

In 1994 BOP established a pilot program in the South Central Region that tested the feasibility of regional Personnel Security Units (PSU). The following year, BOP established PSUs in the remaining five BOP regions as a National Performance Review initiative.4 Some PSUs are co-located with regional offices while others are at BOP correctional institutions. The PSU program replaced the 78 security specialist positions in the institutions with 6 regional PSUs consisting of 3 security specialists assigned to each PSU, for a total of 18 security specialists.5

The security specialists in the PSUs review OPM investigative reports, identify and resolve derogatory issues uncovered in the reports, and send the reports to SBIS for evaluation -- called a final adjudication -- once all derogatory issues are resolved.6 The PSU staff members have no adjudication authority, but they recommend to SBIS whether an employee should be cleared for public trust duties. This recommendation is commonly referred to as an initial adjudication.

While security specialists are no longer located at all institutions, institution staff still have a critical role in the BOP personnel security process. Institution personnel specialists conduct the required pre-employment suitability review, gather information from employees to resolve derogatory issues disclosed during the pre-employment review, initiate security paperwork, schedule BIs and RIs, initiate warden certification memoranda indicating that all pre-employment actions have been completed, and assist PSUs in resolving derogatory issues revealed in BIs and RIs. See Appendix II for a flowchart of the BOP personnel security process.

The SBIS uses two separate databases to manage the BI and RI process. The SBIS has a stand-alone database for tracking personnel security information and security files within its office. The SBIS also uses a SEPS database management system -- the Security Entry Tracking System (SETS) -- for tracking RIs. To better ensure SBIS has timely and complete information, SBIS established in May 1997 an electronic interface with the National Finance Center (NFC) for employee accessions, separations, and transfers. The SBIS downloads this employment data each pay period from NFC so that its database is up-to-date. At the beginning of each fiscal year, SBIS provides BOP institutions with a list of employees for whom RIs are due during the fiscal year.

1Correctional Officers require this type of background investigation.

2 National Agency Checks for a LBI include: FBI name and fingerprint check, National Credit Bureau search, citizenship verification, military personnel record search, and access to previous federal investigations.

3 SEPS retained adjudication authority for Attorney, Schedule C, Senior Executive Service and National Security Information (NSI) positions -- approximately one-half percent of BOP's positions.

4 These are the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic, the Southeast, the North Central, and the Western Regions.

5 The personnel security specialists assigned to the South Central Region have duty locations at three institutions. Each security specialist is supervised by the regional office and is responsible for assigned institutions within the region.

6 The evaluation of issues revealed about an employee in an OPM investigative report and a decision to grant an employee access to national security information, or entrust an employee with certain job responsibilities, is called an adjudication.