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Background Investigations Position Designation Tool



Position Designation Automated Tool (PDT)

Proper position designation is the foundation of an effective and consistent suitability and personnel security program. The process determines, through the evaluation of National Security and suitability requirements, what type of investigation is required and how closely an applicant or incumbent is screened for a position. In order to ensure a systematic, dependable, and uniform way of making position designations, OPM provides the Position Designation Automated Tool (PDT) for those individuals within agencies charged with position designation responsibilities. For a brief overview of the PDT, and the relationship of position designation to reform efforts, please see Federal Investigations Notice (FIN) 10-06 , Position Designation Requirements.

Position Designation Automated Tool

COMING SOON: An updated version of this Position Designation System and Tool will be provided soon for the purposes of re-designating positions in accordance with 5 CFR 1400.

(If you need help with the PDT tool, please contact Systems Access Support at 724-794-5612, extension 4600.)

Position Designation System (PDS)

Before using the PDT, designators should first develop a thorough familiarity and understanding of the PDS. The success and consistency of the PDT are directly connected to the user's understanding of the various possible selections for "suitability requirements" and "duties" available within the PDS. Without fully understanding these "suitability requirements" and "duties," users could inadvertently fail to make appropriate selections early in the PDT process, and this would impact the accuracy of the final position designation. A full understanding of the PDS and proper application of the PDT will ensure consistency.

Should you need access to a hard-copy version of the PDS, you may select the link below to download the most current version. Links to additional information regarding position designation requirements, a glossary of terms, and a "PDS Sample Survey" are also provided below. The "PDS Sample Survey" is a sample inquiry used to obtain necessary information for position designation from position managers, supervisors, or leads, when that information is missing from position descriptions, and it may be modified for agency use as needed.

If you have questions concerning position designation, please contact Suitability Adjudications at (724) 794-5612, extension 7400. If you are interested in Position Designation training, please view the Agency Training portion of the FIS website.

Federal Regulations

Section 731.106(a) of Title 5, Code of Federal Regulations states, "agency heads must designate every covered position within the agency at a high, moderate, or low risk level as determined by the position's potential for adverse impact to the efficiency or integrity of the service." Section 731.106(c)(2) of Title 5, states, "all positions subject to investigation under this part must also receive a sensitivity designation of special-sensitive, critical-sensitive, or noncritical-sensitive, when appropriate." sensitivity levels are discussed further in Part 732 of Title 5.

Automated Tool

This system is for position designation of National Security positions, positions in the competitive service, positions in the excepted service where the incumbent can be noncompetitively converted to the competitive service, and career appointments in the Senior Executive Service (SES).

The designation of covered positions* is outlined in section 731.106 of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations. Every covered position must be designated at the low, moderate, or high risk level as determined by the position's potential for adverse impact on the efficiency and integrity of the service. As the level of authority and responsibility of a position become greater, character and conduct become more significant in deciding whether employment or continued employment would protect the integrity or promote the efficiency of the Federal service.

The designation of National Security positions is outlined in section 3 of Executive Order (E.O.) 10450, as amended, and in section 732.201 of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations. Each position in the Federal service not designated as Non-Sensitive must be designated as Noncritical-Sensitive, Critical-Sensitive, or Special-Sensitive, depending on the degree to which, by virtue of the nature of the position, the occupant could bring about a material adverse effect on the national security. The nature of the position includes the incumbent's foreseeable need for access to classified information; under E.O. 12968, eligibility for access to classified information cannot be granted unless such access is clearly consistent with the national security. The nature of the position also includes the level of clearance required (i.e., confidential, secret, or top secret); under E.O. 12958, as amended, the level at which information is classified depends on whether unauthorized disclosure reasonably could be expected to cause "damage," "serious damage," or "exceptionally grave damage" to the national security.

Proper position designation is based on a combined assessment of the three prescribed levels of risk and the four prescribed levels of sensitivity (including the "non-sensitive" level). Position designation determines what type of investigation is required and how closely an individual is screened for a position.

In order to determine the proper designation of a position, the position description and any other necessary supplemental information (e.g. management and security office input) must be carefully evaluated to assess the nature of the position in terms of its clearance requirements or any other impact on national security as well as its impact on the efficiency or integrity of the service. The following four-step process will result in a final designation which, in turn, will dictate the investigative requirements for the position in question. (Note that words and phrases appearing as hyperlinks (shaded in blue font) on this page and throughout the following pages are linked to definitions in the Glossary.)

COMING SOON: An updated version of this Position Designation System and Tool will be provided soon for the purposes of re-designating positions in accordance with 5 CFR 1400.

* As defined in 5 CFR 731.101, covered position means a position in the competitive service, a position in the excepted service where the incumbent can be noncompetitively converted to the competitive service, and a career appointment to a position in the Senior Executive Service.


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An Executive agency, which is defined by 5 U.S.C. 105 as an Executive department, a Government corporation, and an independent establishment.
Critical and Extremely Important Items of War
Those items vital to success in war, or without which success would be unlikely.
Customer Service
Customer care duties that support the delivery of an agency's services. The scope of the word "customer" would be defined based upon the duties outlined in the position description. For example, one agency's customers might be other Government agencies, but a different agency may primarily serve non-Government entities or the general public (e.g. the duties of employees with the General Services Administration vs. those of a Social Security Administration employee); however, that is not to suggest every employee of those agencies would be assumed to have customer service responsibilities; that is defined by the specific duties of the job.
Damage to the National Security
As defined in E.O. 12958: Harm to the national defense or foreign relations of the United States from the unauthorized disclosure of information, taking into consideration such aspects of the information as the sensitivity, value, utility, and provenance of that information.
Exceptionally Grave Damage
The capacity to cause extremely serious harm.
Inestimable Damage
The capacity to cause harm too severe to be computed or measured.
Information Technology System
As defined in OMB Circular A-130. Any equipment or interconnected system or subsystem of equipment, that is used in the automatic acquisition, storage, manipulation, management, movement, control, display, switching, interchange, transmission, or reception of data or information.
National Security Positions
As defined in 5 CFR 732.102: (1) Those positions that involve activities of the Government that are concerned with the protection of the Nation from foreign aggression or espionage, including development of defense plans or policies, intelligence or counterintelligence activities, and related activities concerned with the preservation of the military strength of the United States; and (2) Positions that require regular use of, or access to, classified information. (See Q&A for further discussion.)
Significant Personal Gain
Noticeably or measurably benefiting an individual's interests in a substantial way (e.g. a large monetary or other valuable personal benefit, benefit to one's family or friends, etc; providing a level of affluence or a lifestyle otherwise not justifiable).

Broad glossarial meanings for the terms automatic high-risk conditions, severe impact, moderate impact, and limited impact are to follow; however, to recognize their complete meaning in the chart in Step 2, each term should be evaluated against each of the other terms as defined by the associated bulleted examples/clarifying remarks in each duty's column. In other words, look at the particular duty, then evaluate the entire row of information to establish the scope of these terms within the context of the row. In so doing, you will determine the potential damage to the integrity and efficiency of the service and the public's trust.

Automatic High-risk Conditions
These conditions are duties that present the possibility of grave impact, likely to produce inestimable harm or danger -- exceptionally serious damage that is devastating in scope or effect.
Severe Impact
Likely to produce a substantial degree of harm or danger -- very serious damage that is extensive in scope or effect.
Moderate Impact
Likely to produce a fair amount of harm or danger -- serious damage that is fairly wide-ranging in scope or effect.
Limited Impact
Likely to produce some harm or danger -- discernable damage that is narrow in scope or effect.

The following provides further explanation for levels of supervisory control. These explanations have been supplemented by information found in the Introduction to the Position Classification Standards. Although the document only applies to General Schedule positions, the assessment of supervisory controls discussed in the document, and broken down into levels, seems well suited as a guide to simplify the adjustment for supervision in Step 3 of the Position Designation System. Specifically, Levels 2-1 and 2-2 would indicate "close technical supervision," Levels 2-3 and 2-4 would indicate "periodic, ongoing review," and Level 2-5 would indicate "limited or no supervision." In the following meanings, a general explanation is provided in bold italics, followed by a supplemental explanation adapted from information in the Introduction to the Position Classification Standards.

Limited or No Supervision

Occasional review from a perspective of major policy issues by a superior who likely has no relevant expertise in the technical aspects of the duties performed.

The supervisor provides administrative direction with assignments in terms of broadly defined missions or functions. The employee has responsibility for independently planning, designing, and carrying out programs, projects, studies, or other work. Results of the work are considered technically authoritative and are normally accepted without significant change. If the work should be reviewed, the review concerns such matters as fulfillment of program objectives, effect of advice and influence on the overall program, or the contribution to the advancement of technology. Recommendations for new projects and alteration of objectives usually are evaluated for such considerations as availability of funds and other resources, broad program goals, or national priorities.

Periodic Review

Ongoing spot review from a perspective of policy and organizational concerns by a superior with expertise in the technical aspects of the duties performed.

The supervisor sets the overall objectives and resources available. The employee and supervisor, in consultation, develop deadlines, projects, and work to be done. The employee, having developed expertise in the line of work, is responsible for planning and carrying out the assignment, resolving most of the conflicts that arise, coordinating the work with others as necessary, and interpreting policy on own initiative in terms of established objectives. In some assignments, the employee also determines the approach to be taken and the methodology to be used. The employee keeps the supervisor informed of progress and potentially controversial matters. Completed work is reviewed only from an overall standpoint in terms of feasibility, compatibility with other work, or effectiveness in meeting requirements or expected results.


The supervisor makes assignments by defining objectives, priorities, and deadlines and assists the employee with unusual situations that do not have clear precedents. The employee plans and carries out the successive steps and handles problems and deviations in the work assignments in accordance with instructions, policies, previous training, or accepted practices in the occupation. Completed work is usually evaluated for technical soundness, appropriateness, and conformity to policy and requirements. The methods used in arriving at the end results are not usually reviewed in detail.

Close Technical Supervision

Continuing review of all work by a technical expert.

The supervisor provides continuing or individual assignments by indicating generally what is to be done, limitations, quality and quantity expected, deadlines, and priority of assignments.

The supervisor provides additional, specific instructions for new, difficult, or unusual assignments, including suggested work methods or advice on source material available. The employee uses initiative in carrying out recurring assignments independently without specific instructions, but refers deviations, problems, and unfamiliar situations not covered by instructions to the supervisor for decision or help. The supervisor assures that finished work and methods used are technically accurate and in compliance with instructions or established procedures. Review of the work increases with more difficult assignments if the employee has not previously performed similar assignments.


For both one-of-a-kind and repetitive tasks, the supervisor makes specific assignments accompanied by clear, detailed, and specific instructions. The employee works as instructed and consults with the supervisor as needed on all matters not specifically covered in the original instructions or guidelines. For all positions the work is closely controlled. For some positions, the control is through the structured nature of the work; for others, it may be controlled by the circumstances in which it is performed. In some situations, the supervisor maintains control through review of the work. This may include checking progress or reviewing completed work for accuracy, adequacy, and adherence to instructions and established procedures.

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