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Background Investigations Customer Service for Agencies

Freedom of Information and Privacy Act (FOIPA)

The Freedom of Information and Privacy Act (FOI/PA) offices supports individual privacy rights in regard to the collection and re-dissemination of all information gathered during the investigative process. OPM-FIS maintains a record of all background investigations which is governed by our systems notice, OPM-Central 9, as published in the Federal Register. Dissemination of OPM-FIS background investigations is done in accordance with The Freedom of Information Act [5 U.S. Code, 552], The Privacy Act of 1974 [5 U.S. Code 552(a)], Privacy Procedures for Personnel Records [5 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 297], and/or Availability of Official Information [5 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 294].

The primary duties of the FOI/PA office include:

  • Release of investigative files to the subjects of investigation and/or their designated representative
  • Release of investigative files to law enforcement or counterintelligence entities
  • Release of FIS information to the general public
  • Review and decide all requests for amendment to the investigative file
  • Processing of correspondence related to FOI/PA and program issues
  • Responds to agency concerns regarding investigative products

Privacy Act of 1974 - Section 552a of title 5, United States Code (5 U.S.C. 552a)

The purpose of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act (FOI/PA) is to regulate the collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of personal information by Federal Executive Branch agencies. Generally speaking, the Act prohibits the disclosure of records contained in a system of records without the written request or consent of the individual to whom the records pertain, unless a condition of disclosure is met or the release is covered by a routine use of the System of Records Notice (SORN) for the system.

Background investigations are maintained in the OPM Personnel Investigations Records System, covered by the OPM/Central-9 SORN.

The OPM/Central-9 system of records includes investigative information regarding an individual's:

  • Character, conduct, and behavior in the community
  • Arrests and convictions
  • Reports of interviews with the subject of the investigation and with present and former supervisors, co-workers, associates, educators, and other sources interviewed during the investigation.
  • Reports about the qualifications of an individual for a specific position and correspondence relating to adjudication matters
  • Reports of inquiries with law enforcement agencies, employers, educational institutions attended
  • Other information developed from the above items

First Party Requests for Access

Individuals requesting access to their own background investigations should submit a written request to: FOI/PA office, OPM-FIS, PO Box 618, Boyers, PA 16018-0618. The request can also be faxed to 724-794-4590. The request should state that "the information is being requested pursuant to the Privacy Act of 1974." The requester is required to provide the following:

  1. Full name
  2. Social Security Number
  3. Date and place of birth
  4. Any available information regarding the type of record requested
  5. The address to which the information should be sent
  6. Handwritten signature

Access by a Representative of the Subject of Investigation

A record may be disclosed to a representative of the individual to whom the record pertains. In order for a representative to obtain records, OPM-FIS requires written authorization from the individual to whom the records pertain for the representative to act on their behalf. The written authorization must also include an original notarized statement or an unsworn declaration in accordance with 28 U.S.C. 1746, in the following format: I declare (or certify, verify, or state) under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct. The unsworn declaration must include the date the declaration was executed and the subject's signature.

Amendment of Records

Individuals may request, in writing, the amendment of their record(s) maintained in our System of Records. In order for us to process such a request, the individual is required to provide:

  1. Full name
  2. Date and place of birth
  3. Social Security Number
  4. Any available information regarding the type of record requested
  5. The address to which the information should be sent
  6. Handwritten signature

The amendment request should include the following

  1. The precise identification of the records to be amended;
  2. The identification of the specific material to be deleted, added, or changed; and
  3. A statement of the reasons for the request, including all available material substantiating the request.

Requests for amendment of records should include the words "PRIVACY ACT AMENDMENT REQUEST" in capital letters on both the envelope and at the top of the request letter.

The burden of proof demonstrating the appropriateness of the requested amendment rests with the requester. The requester must provide relevant and convincing evidence in support of the request.

The amendment procedures are not intended to allow a challenge to material that records an event that actually occurred nor are they designed to permit a collateral attack upon that which has been or could have been the subject of a judicial, quasi-judicial, or administrative proceeding. The amendment procedures are also not designed to change opinions in records pertaining to the individual.

The amendment procedures do apply to situations when an occurrence that is documented was challenged through an established judicial, quasi-judicial, or administrative procedure and found to be inaccurately described; when the document is not identical to the individual's copy; or when the document is not created in accordance with the applicable recordkeeping requirements.

Please see 5 CFR 297 for additional information regarding OPM's Privacy Procedures for Personnel Records. for additional information regarding OPM's Privacy Procedures for Personnel Records

Safeguarding and Handling Investigative Files

Dissemination of files within an agency:

  • Investigative files furnished to an agency may be disseminated to authorized agency officials within that agency, as needed, to evaluate qualifications, suitability, fitness, credentialing for HSPD 12, and loyalty to the United States Government and/or a security clearance or access determination.
  • Agency security officers are responsible for deciding, in light of the information in the file, the extent of dissemination and appropriate controls of the file.
  • Investigative information should be handled in a manner that protects the privacy of individuals without compromising the capability of agency officials to make informed suitability and security determinations. The information upon which these decisions are based is highly personal and restricted to agency officials who have a need for it in performing their duties. However, there is no prohibition against sharing this information with agency management officials when necessary to accomplish the purpose for which the data was collected.

Physical Storage

When not in use, personnel investigations must be stored in a combination locked-cabinet or safe, or in an equally secure area. Access to the cases should be limited only to the Security Officer and approved staff, who shall not have access to their own files.

Administrative Due Process and Privacy Act Considerations

  • Agencies are responsible for ensuring the records used in making an adjudication are accurate, relevant, timely, and complete to the extent reasonably necessary to assure fairness to the individual in any determination.
  • Agencies are responsible for complying with all applicable administrative due process requirements, as provided by law, rule, or regulation, when taking an unfavorable action based on information in an OPM Report of Investigation.

Other Agency Reports

Our investigative files may contain other agency reports; however approval should be obtained from the originating agency if the data in that report is needed to propose an adverse action.

Dissemination to Subject of OPM Case

When proposing adverse action, agencies may provide subjects with excerpts or summaries of the information contained in the OPM Report of Investigation, but not with a complete copy of the investigation itself. The agency may not release information that:

  • contains a national security classification (Top Secret, Secret, Confidential), even if the subject already has a clearance;
  • would reveal the identity of a source granted confidentiality;
  • would reveal the identity of any investigating agencies other than OPM or any specific Investigators;
  • is protected sensitive medical information as denoted at 5 CFR 297.205;
  • is stamped as being restricted in use;
  • does not pertain to the subject of the investigation; or
  • is otherwise exempt from release by the Privacy Act.

Agencies can contact the FIS Freedom of Information and Privacy Act office for a sanitized copy of the investigative file for use in an adverse action. A written request on agency letterhead can be submitted to: OPM-FIS, FOI/PA office, P.O. Box 618, Boyers, PA 16018-0618 or faxed to 724-794-4590. The request should include the Case Number, subject's name, and an address to where the information should be sent. The request should also state that a sanitized copy is needed for use in an adverse action.

The Freedom of Information Act, Title 5 of the United States Code, section 552

This Act gives you the right to request access to federal agency records or information. All U.S. government agencies are required to disclose agency records to the public unless the records are protected by one or more of the FOIA's nine exemptions or three exclusions. The nine exemption categories that authorize government agencies to withhold information are:

  1. classified information for national defense or foreign policy;
  2. internal personnel rules and practices;
  3. information that is exempt under other laws;
  4. trade secrets and confidential business information;
  5. inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or letters that are protected by legal privileges;
  6. personnel and medical files;
  7. law enforcement records or information;
  8. information concerning bank supervision; and
  9. geological and geophysical information.

The three exclusions are rarely used and pertain to particularly sensitive law enforcement and national security matters.

Access to Certain Records without a FOIA Request

This Act requires that certain records be made available without requiring a FOIA request. Such records include:

  1. final opinions made by OPM in adjudication of cases;
  2. OPM policy statements and interpretations adopted by OPM but not published in the Federal Register;
  3. OPM administrative staff manuals and instructions that affect a member of the public;
  4. copies of records disclosed in response to a FOIA request that have become or are likely to become the subject of subsequent requests; and
  5. OPM's Annual FOIA Report.

Please see 5 CFR 294 for additional information regarding OPM's regulations for the Availability of Official Information.

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