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Background Investigation Process and Polygraph Examination FAQs

A favorably completed background investigation is required for your placement in a position with Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Final determination of your suitability for the position will be determined by CBP. You will be provided the opportunity to explain, refute, or clarify any unfavorable/discrepant information before a final decision is made.

Q: What is the purpose of a background investigation?
A: A background investigation is conducted to ensure that the candidate is suitable for employment, i.e. reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and loyal to the United States.
Q: What are basic requirements for employment?

The following are the basic requirements for employment:

U.S. Citizenship: United States citizenship; proof of citizenship is required, if selected.

Residency: All CBP employees assigned to duty stations in the United States are required to maintain their primary residence in the United States.  Applicants must meet one or more of the following primary residence criteria for the last three years prior to submitting an application for employment:

  1. resided in the United States or its protectorates or territories (excluding short trips abroad, such as vacations).  Residence is defined for CBP purposes as an actual physical residence/dwelling/domicile in the United States or its protectorates or territories where a person maintains his/her household/personal belongings and sleeps, with the exception of limited vacations or visits abroad;
  2. worked for the U.S. Government as an employee overseas in a Federal or military capacity; or
  3. had been a dependent of a U.S. Federal or military employee serving overseas.

Exceptions to the residency requirement may be granted to applicants who spend time overseas within the 3 years prior to application:

  1. As part of a “foreign exchange” or “study abroad” program sponsored by an accredited U.S-based school.  (Time spent overseas for personal enrichment or language improvement will not receive an exception or waiver.)
  2. Performing missionary work under the sponsorship of a U.S.-based religious organization.
  3. Working as a contractor for the U.S. Government or a U.S.-based company with a stateside headquarters (records to verify contractor employment must be available stateside.) 

For all residency waiver exceptions noted above, the candidate must provide complete state-side coverage information required to make a suitability/security determination. Examples of state-side coverage information include: the state-side address of the company headquarters where the applicant's personnel file is located, the state-side address of the Professor in charge of the applicant's "Study Abroad" or “student exchange” program, the U.S.-based religious organization’s records for the applicant's overseas missionary work, and/or the state-side addresses of anyone who worked or studied with the applicant while overseas. If selected for a position, applicants must provide this information when completing the Residency Requirement form.

Background Investigation: Successfully complete a background investigation before being appointed (to include successful completion of a polygraph exam for law enforcement officer positions).

Drug Testing: If in a testing-designated position (e.g., Border Patrol Agent, Customs and Border Protection Officer, Intel Specialist, Air Interdiction Agent, Marine Interdiction Agent), submit to a drug test and receive a negative test result before being appointed.

Structured Interview: Successfully pass a structured interview. Candidates for Customs and Border Protection Officer or Agricultural Specialist positions will also be required to successfully pass a video-based-test (VBT).

Q: What is adjudication and what is involved in the adjudication process?
A: Adjudication is the evaluation of data contained in a background investigation, and/or any other available relevant reports, to determine whether an individual is suitable for federal employment or eligible for access to classified information.
Q: How long does a background investigation take and why do some investigations take longer than others?
A: Pre-employment investigative screening (such as the collection and review of fingerprints and the Questionnaire for National Security Positions, the polygraph exam, and the background investigation) can take up to 12 months, or longer. Although most issues are resolved, you cannot be authorized to enter-on-duty until all potentially disqualifying issues are resolved.  If you do not provide accurate information or answer all of the questions on the background investigation forms, the process may be delayed. Some individuals have more complex backgrounds than others and, consequently, more time is required to conduct a complete investigation. Other factors that may delay the process are a candidate’s having resided in multiple geographic areas and having numerous past employers.
Q: What is the difference between a suitability determination and a security clearance?
A: Suitability refers to an individual’s identifiable character traits and conduct that is sufficient to decide whether the individual’s employment or continued employment would or would not protect the integrity or promote the efficiency of the service.  Suitability is distinguishable from a person’s ability to fulfill the qualification requirements of a job, as measured by experience, education, knowledge, and skills.

A security clearance is a determination that allows an employee access to classified information or systems when the employee has a “need to know.” A security clearance may be granted based on an administrative determination that an individual is eligible for access to classified information or systems based on the favorable security adjudication of a background investigation. Although all employees must meet the suitability requirements for employment, not all employees require a security clearance.

Q: Why are you going to investigate me? I'm only applying for an entry-level job and I don't need a security clearance.
A: Suitability is always a consideration for Federal employment. All individuals employed by the Federal Government shall be reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and have complete and unswerving loyalty to the United States. This means that each employee appointed to a position in any department or agency of the government is subject to an investigation.
Q: What does a background investigation involve?
A: The background investigation will include credit and criminal history checks, records checks to verify citizenship of family members, verification of date of birth, education, employment history, and military history.  Interviews of individuals who know the candidate and of any current or former spouse (divorced within the past ten years) will be conducted. Residences will be confirmed, neighbors interviewed, and public records queried for information about bankruptcies, divorces, and criminal or civil litigation. Additional interviews will be conducted, as needed, to resolve any inconsistencies or issues which have developed during the course of the investigation.
Q: Will I need to be interviewed for my background investigation?
A: Yes. A personal interview with an investigator is part of the investigative process. You will be contacted in advance by telephone to arrange a time and location for the interview. Declining an interview may result in the cancellation of the investigation and the withdrawal of the tentative offer of employment.
Q: What happens if I withhold information or provide false information?
A: The agency may remove an employee or disqualify applicants who materially and deliberately falsify or conceal information (such as the omission of arrests, drug use, employment, medical history, assets, and liabilities, etc.) on the background investigation documentation or who make false statements during the personal interview with the investigator.  In addition, the U. S. Criminal Code (18 U.S.C. § 1001) provides that knowingly falsifying or concealing a material fact is a felony which may result in fines up to $10,000and/or 5 years imprisonment.
Q: Why would I receive an unfavorable suitability determination at the conclusion of my background investigation?
A: Some issues that may result in an unfavorable suitability determination include: financial irresponsibility; poor credit history; drug/alcohol abuse; arrest history; misconduct in prior employment; association with individuals involved in illegal activities such as drug use and drug trafficking; and demonstrated lack of honesty/integrity in providing complete and comprehensive information about current/past behavior which may be unfavorable.

Polygraph Exam

Candidates for law enforcement officer positions at Customs and Border Protection are required to undergo a polygraph exam as part of the background investigation. The results of the polygraph will be used to determine the candidate’s suitability for placement in the law enforcement officer position. The suitability information provided by and collected on applicants, including CBP polygraph exam results, will be kept for a minimum of three (3) years for use in future background investigations.

Q:  If I must change the date/time of my polygraph appointment, who do I contact?  
A:  You may contact your assigned examiner or use the phone number and email address listed below.  

Q:  What if I have concerns about my polygraph exam before or after taking the exam?

A:  If you have any questions regarding the polygraph exam, please contact CAD at (202) 235-7797, or or you may contact the Personnel Security Division at (202) 325-7500.  
Q: How should I prepare for the polygraph exam?
A: The important things you should consider are:
  • Try to get plenty of sleep the night before your scheduled exam.
  • Eat prior to arriving for your exam.
  • Dress is business casual, but you should wear comfortable clothing.
  • If an issue arises that would preclude your being tested on your scheduled date, please call the examiner and re-schedule your exam.
  • Do not schedule other events for the same day as your scheduled exam. The polygraph process generally takes four to six hours to complete, but may run longer.
  • Bring photo ID (Driver’s License, passport, etc.) to your exam.
  • Bring any updated e-QIP (SF-86) information to your exam.
Q: What type of questions will be asked?
A: You will be administered a standardized polygraph exam, the results of which will be used in determining your suitability for employment with CBP.  Some questions will concern the answers you gave on your application forms; others will deal with national security issues (e.g., foreign contacts, mishandling of classified information, and involvement in terrorist activity).  All questions will be explained and reviewed with you prior to the actual examination.  You will be given an opportunity to discuss any concerns or issues you may have about any question prior to the actual exam.
Q: When will I find out the results of my polygraph exam?
A: Before you leave the polygraph suite, the examiner will advise you of the preliminary results as to whether you passed or failed the exam and will offer you the opportunity to comment on any areas of concern. The examiner will explain to you the polygraph Quality Control process, which is the process in which the final decision on your exam is made.  In some instances, the examiner may schedule you for additional testing.
Q: What is Quality Control?
A: Under Federal polygraph policies and procedures, your Polygraph Examination results are submitted to the Polygraph Quality Control (QC) section in the Credibility Assessment Division for final review. If QC concurs with the examiner’s opinion about your polygraph examination, the results are final and will be forwarded to the Personnel Security Division for inclusion in your background investigation file. If not, you may be contacted for additional testing (re-test).
Q: Will the Credibility Assessment Division (Polygraph Unit) contact me again after the Polygraph Exam?
A: No, not unless additional testing is required.
Q: Does the Credibility Assessment Division (Polygraph Unit) decide if I get hired?
A: No. The Credibility Assessment Division does not make hiring decisions.
Q: How will I know if I will continue in the application process?
A: Polygraph results are submitted to the Personnel Security Division (PSD), and are adjudicated as part of your background investigation. The Credibility Assessment Division (Polygraph Unit) does not participate in the adjudication process. PSD may contact you during the background investigation process to schedule additional interviews or request additional information. You may check the status of your application by visiting the Central Applicant Self-Service System (CASS).
Q: Can I request to withdraw my application after the Polygraph Exam?
A: You can withdraw your application after the polygraph exam by contacting the Minneapolis Hiring Center at (952) 857-2914 or by contacting your assigned case manager.
Q: If I do not successfully complete the CBP Polygraph Exam, will that preclude me from job application processes with other agencies?
A: No. Other agencies may request and be given the status of your application process with CBP, but the results do not preclude you from applying or being considered for other jobs.
Q: What forms will I be required to sign on the day of my polygraph examination?
A: A “CBP Polygraph Rights Warning and Waiver” form and a “CBP Polygraph Examination Consent” form.
Q: What if I am a current CBP employee and make admissions of misconduct during the polygraph examination?
A: Admissions of criminal misconduct may be referred to Federal, state, or local law enforcement authorities.  Admissions of criminal and non-criminal misconduct will be referred to the Office of Internal Affairs; any substantiated misconduct may result in disciplinary action, up to and including removal.