U.S. Code of Federal Regulations

Regulations most recently checked for updates: Jul 20, 2024

§ 731.101 - Purpose.

(a) The purpose of this part is to establish criteria and procedures for making determinations of suitability and for taking suitability actions regarding employment in covered positions (as defined in paragraph (b) of this section) pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 3301,E.O. 10577 (3 CFR, 1954-1958 Comp., p. 218), as amended, and 5 CFR 1.1, 2.1(a) and 5.2. Section 3301 of title 5, United States Code, directs consideration of “age, health, character, knowledge, and ability for the employment sought.” E.O. 10577 (codified in relevant part at 5 CFR 1.1, 2.1(a) and 5.2) directs OPM to examine “suitability” for competitive Federal employment. This part concerns only determinations of “suitability,” that is, those determinations based on a person's character or conduct that may have an impact on the integrity or efficiency of the service. Determinations made and actions taken under this part are distinct from objections to eligibles or pass overs of preference eligibles, and OPM's and agencies' decisions on such requests, made under 5 U.S.C. 3318 and 5 CFR 332.406, as well as determinations of eligibility for assignment to, or retention in, sensitive national security positions made under E.O. 10450 (3 CFR, 1949-1953 Comp., p. 936), E.O. 12968, or similar authorities.

(b) Definitions. In this part:

Applicant means a person who is being considered or has been considered for employment.

Appointee means a person who has entered on duty and is in the first year of a subject-to-investigation appointment (as defined in § 731.104).

Core Duty means a continuing responsibility that is of particular importance to the relevant covered position or the achievement of an agency's mission.

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.

Days means calendar days unless otherwise specified in this part.

Employee means a person who has completed the first year of a subject-to-investigation appointment.

Material means, in reference to a statement, one that is capable of influencing, affects, or has a natural tendency to affect, an official decision even if OPM or an agency does not rely upon it.

Suitability action means an outcome described in § 731.203 and may be taken only by OPM or an agency with delegated authority under the procedures in subparts C and D of this part.

Suitability determination means a decision by OPM or an agency with delegated authority that a person is suitable or is not suitable for employment in covered positions in the Federal Government or a specific Federal agency.

[73 FR 20154, Apr. 15, 2008, as amended at 73 FR 66492, Nov. 10, 2008]

§ 731.102 - Implementation.

(a) An investigation conducted for the purpose of determining suitability under this part may not be used for any other purpose except as provided in a Privacy Act system of records notice published by the agency conducting the investigation.

(b) Under OMB Circular No. A-130 Revised, issued November 20, 2000, agencies are to implement and maintain a program to ensure that adequate protection is provided for all automated information systems. Agency personnel screening programs may be based on procedures developed by OPM. The Computer Security Act of 1987 (Pub. L. 100-235) provides additional requirements for Federal automated information systems.

(c) OPM may set forth policies, procedures, criteria, standards, quality control procedures, and supplementary guidance for the implementation of this part in OPM issuances.

§ 731.103 - Delegation to agencies.

(a) Subject to the limitations and requirements of paragraphs (f) and (g) of this section, OPM delegates to the heads of agencies authority for making suitability determinations and taking suitability actions (including limited, agency-specific debarments under § 731.205) in cases involving applicants for and appointees to covered positions in the agency.

(b) When an agency, acting under delegated authority from OPM, determines that a Governmentwide debarment by OPM under § 731.204(a) may be an appropriate action, it must refer the case to OPM for debarment consideration. Agencies must make these referrals prior to any proposed suitability action, but only after sufficient resolution of the suitability issue(s), through subject contact or investigation, to determine if a Governmentwide debarment appears warranted.

(c) Agencies exercising authority under this part by delegation from OPM must adhere to OPM requirements as stated in this part and OPM's issuances described in § 731.102(c). Agencies must also implement policies and maintain records demonstrating that they employ reasonable methods to ensure adherence to these OPM issuances.

(d)(1) A hiring agency may not make specific inquiries concerning an applicant's criminal or credit background in oral or written form (including through the OF-306 or other forms used to conduct suitability investigations for Federal employment, USAJOBS, or any other electronic means) unless the hiring agency has made a conditional offer of employment to the applicant. Agencies may request an exception to the provision for making credit inquiries in advance of a conditional offer in accordance with the provisions in 5 CFR part 330, subpart M. For criminal inquiries prior to a conditional offer, this prohibition does not apply to applicants for positions excepted under 5 CFR 920.201(b). Agencies may make inquiries into an applicant's Selective Service registration, military service, citizenship status, where applicable, or previous work history, prior to making a conditional offer of employment to an applicant.

(2) OPM reserves the right to undertake a determination of suitability based upon evidence of falsification or fraud relating to an examination or appointment at any point when information giving rise to such a charge is discovered. OPM must be informed in all cases where there is evidence of material, intentional false statements, or deception or fraud in examination or appointment, and OPM will take a suitability action where warranted.

(e) When an agency, exercising authority under this part by delegation from OPM, makes a suitability determination or changes a tentative favorable placement decision to an unfavorable decision, based on an OPM report of investigation or upon an investigation conducted pursuant to OPM-delegated authority, the agency must:

(1) Ensure that the records used in making the determination are accurate, relevant, timely, and complete to the extent reasonably necessary to ensure fairness to the person in any determination;

(2) Ensure that all applicable administrative procedural requirements provided by law, the regulations in this part, and OPM issuances as described in § 731.102(c) have been observed;

(3) Consider all available information in reaching its final decision on a suitability determination or suitability action, except information furnished by a non-corroborated confidential source, which may be used only for limited purposes, such as information used to develop a lead or in interrogatories to a subject, if the identity of the source is not compromised in any way; and

(4) Keep any record of the agency suitability determination or action as required by OPM issuances as described in § 731.102(c).

(f) OPM may revoke an agency's delegation to make suitability determinations and take suitability actions under this part if an agency fails to conform to this part or OPM issuances as described in § 731.102(c).

(g) OPM retains jurisdiction to make final determinations and take actions in all suitability cases where there is evidence that there has been a material, intentional false statement, or deception or fraud in examination or appointment. OPM also retains jurisdiction over all suitability cases involving a refusal to furnish testimony as required by § 5.4 of this chapter. Agencies must refer these cases to OPM for suitability determinations and suitability actions under this authority. Although no prior approval is needed, notification to OPM is required if the agency wants to take, or has taken, action under its own authority (5 CFR part 315, 5 CFR part 359, or 5 CFR part 752) in cases involving material, intentional false statement in examination or appointment, or deception or fraud in examination or appointment; or refusal to furnish testimony as required by § 5.4 of this title. In addition, paragraph (a) of this section notwithstanding, OPM may, in its discretion, exercise its jurisdiction under this part in any case it deems necessary.

[73 FR 20154, Apr. 15, 2008, as amended at 81 FR 86561, Dec. 1, 2016; 88 FR 60330, Sept. 1, 2023]

§ 731.104 - Appointments subject to investigation.

(a) To establish a person's suitability for employment, appointments to covered positions identified in § 731.101 require the person to undergo an investigation by OPM or by an agency with delegated authority from OPM to conduct investigations. However, except as provided in paragraph (b)(2), an appointment will not be subject to investigation when the person being appointed has undergone a background investigation and the appointment involves:

(1) Appointment or conversion to an appointment in a covered position if the person has been serving continuously with the agency for at least 1 year in one or more covered positions subject to investigation;

(2) Transfer to a covered position, provided the person has been serving continuously for at least 1 year in a covered position subject to investigation;

(3) Transfer or appointment from an excepted service position that is not a covered position to a covered position, provided the person has been serving continuously for at least 1 year in a position where the person has been determined fit for appointment based on criteria equivalent to the factors provided at 5 CFR 731.202;

(4) Appointment to a covered position from a position as an employee working as a Federal Government contract employee, provided the person has been serving continuously for at least 1 year in a job where a Federal agency determined the contract employee was fit to perform work on the contract based on criteria equivalent to the factors provided at 5 CFR 731.202; or

(5) Appointment to a covered position where there has been a break in service of less than 24 months, and the service immediately preceding the break was in a covered position, an excepted service position, or a contract employee position described in paragraphs (a)(1) to (a)(4) of this section.

(b)(1) Either OPM or an agency with delegated suitability authority may investigate and take a suitability action against an applicant, appointee, or employee in accordance with § 731.105. There is no time limit on the authority of OPM or an agency with delegated suitability authority to conduct the required investigation of an applicant who has been appointed to a position. An employee does not have to serve a new probationary or trial period merely because his or her appointment is subject to investigation under this section. An employee's probationary or trial period is not extended because his or her appointment is subject to investigation under this section.

(2) An appointment to a covered position also will be subject to investigation when:

(i) The covered position requires a higher level of investigation than previously conducted for the person being appointed; or

(ii) An agency obtains new information in connection with the person's appointment that calls into question the person's suitability under § 731.202;

(3) Suitability determinations must be made for all appointments that are subject to investigation.

(c) Positions that are intermittent, seasonal, per diem, or temporary, not to exceed an aggregate of 180 days per year in either a single continuous appointment or series of appointments, do not require a background investigation as described in § 731.106(c)(1). The employing agency, however, must conduct such checks as it deems appropriate to ensure the suitability of the person.

(d) Reinvestigation requirements under § 731.106 for public trust positions are not affected by this section.

(e) For purposes of this section, “criteria equivalent to the factors provided at 5 CFR 731.202” are criteria that provide adequate assurance that the person to be appointed, converted to an appointment, or transferred is suitable to be employed in a covered position, as determined by OPM, in issuances under this regulation. A decision by OPM, or by an agency applying guidance from OPM, that a prior fitness determination was not based on criteria equivalent to the factors provided at 5 CFR 731.202, and that a new investigation or adjudication is necessary is not subject to review under section 731.501 of this part.

[73 FR 20154, Apr. 15, 2008, as amended at 73 FR 66492, Nov. 11, 2008; 76 FR 69608, Nov. 9, 2011]

§ 731.105 - Authority to take suitability actions.

(a) Neither OPM nor an agency acting under delegated authority may take a suitability action in connection with any application for, or appointment to, a position that is not subject to investigation or check under § 731.104.

(b) OPM may take a suitability action under this part against an applicant or appointee based on any of the criteria of § 731.202;

(c) Except as limited by § 731.103(g), an agency, exercising delegated authority, may take a suitability action under this part against an applicant or appointee based on the criteria of § 731.202;

(d) OPM may take a suitability action under this part against an employee based on the criteria of § 731.202(b)(3), (4), or (8).

(e) An agency may not take a suitability action against an employee. Nothing in this part precludes an agency from taking an adverse action against an employee under the procedures and standards of part 752 of this chapter or terminating a probationary employee under the procedures of part 315 or part 359 of this chapter. An agency must notify OPM to the extent required in § 731.103(g) if it wants to take, or has taken, action under these authorities.

§ 731.106 - Designation of public trust positions and investigative requirements.

(a) Risk designation. 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. OPM will provide an example of a risk designation system for agency use in an OPM issuance as described in § 731.102(c).

(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.

(c) Investigative requirements. (1) Persons receiving an appointment made subject to investigation under this part must undergo a background investigation. OPM is authorized to establish minimum investigative requirements correlating to risk levels. Investigations should be initiated before appointment but no later than 14 calendar days after placement in the position.

(2) All positions subject to investigation under this part must also receive a sensitivity designation of Special-Sensitive, Critical-Sensitive, or Noncritical-Sensitive, when appropriate. This designation is complementary to the risk designation, and may have an effect on the position's investigative requirement. Sections 732.201 and 732.202 of this chapter detail the various sensitivity levels and investigative requirements. Procedures for determining investigative requirements for all positions based upon risk and sensitivity will be published in OPM issuances, as described in §§ 731.102(c) and 732.201(b).

(3) If suitability issues develop prior to the required investigation, OPM or the agency may conduct an investigation sufficient to resolve the issues and support a suitability determination or action, if warranted. If the person is appointed, the minimum level of investigation must be conducted as required by paragraph (c)(1) of this section.

(d) Reinvestigation requirements. (1) Agencies must ensure that reinvestigations are conducted and a determination made regarding continued employment of persons occupying public trust positions at least once every 5 years. The nature of these reinvestigations and any additional requirements and parameters will be established in supplemental guidance issued by OPM.

(2) If, prior to the next required reinvestigation, a separate investigation is conducted to determine a person's eligibility (or continued eligibility) for access to classified information or to hold a sensitive position, or as a result of a change in risk level as provided in paragraph (e) of this section, and that investigation meets or exceeds the requirements for a public trust reinvestigation, a new public trust reinvestigation is not required. Such a completed investigation restarts the cycle for a public trust reinvestigation for that person.

(3) Agencies must notify all employees covered by this section of the reinvestigation requirements under this paragraph.

(e) Risk level changes. If an employee or appointee experiences a change to a higher position risk level due to promotion, demotion, or reassignment, or the risk level of the employee's or appointee's position is changed to a higher level, the employee or appointee may remain in or encumber the position. Any upgrade in the investigation required for the new risk level should be initiated within 14 calendar days after the promotion, demotion, reassignment or new designation of risk level is final.

(f) Completed investigations. Any suitability investigation (or reinvestigation) completed by an agency under paragraphs (d) and (e) of this section must result in a determination by the employing agency of whether the findings of the investigation would justify an action under this part or under another applicable authority, such as part 315, 359, or 752 of this chapter. Section 731.103 addresses whether an agency may take an action under this part, and whether the matter must be referred to OPM for debarment consideration.

[73 FR 20154, Apr. 15, 2008, as amended at 73 FR 66492, Nov. 11, 2008; 76 FR 69608, Nov. 9, 2011]