How to Obtain a PIV Card with Ease

By Jennifer Alexander, contributing writer, FNL Public Affairs and Communications Office

Picture this: a scientist works hard to make it through the interview process and accepts a job offer with NCI at Frederick. Filled with joy, she is eager to start right away.

However, she has important steps ahead that can affect how soon her first day on the job will be. One is to obtain a Personal Identity Verification (PIV) card.

What Is a PIV Card?

A PIV card is a federal smart card badge that contains the necessary data for the cardholder to be granted access to use a work computer, visit agency websites, sign documents electronically, and open doors at federal facilities. They contain four digital certificates as well as biometric information, such as fingerprints. They are also capable of receiving certain radio signals and must be protected accordingly. Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12 requires that all federal employees and contractors have a PIV card.

What’s the Timeline for Obtaining a PIV Card?

“The last report I saw earlier this year stated that the average time for PIV issuance was 21 business days,” said Dennis Rudden, access control supervisor for Environment, Health, and Safety at Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research (FNL), whose team handles badging for NCI at Frederick and FNL.

While that may seem like a long time, it’s an involved process.

For the newly hired NCI at Frederick scientist, the gears begin turning as soon as they accept the offer. The first step for Human Resources, Security and Emergency Services, and the necessary administrators is to review their information. Once the Department of Personnel Security and Access Control (DPSAC) receives the PIV request, an email will be sent to the scientist with instructions on how to access and complete the electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (e-QIP).

The e-QIP is the most daunting part of the process: a background questionnaire covering anywhere between the last five and 10 years of the scientist’s personal and professional life, depending on the clearance needed for this job. The email from DPSAC regarding the e-QIP will provide a list of what information they’ll need as well as a link to additional directions.

Some of the items the e-QIP covers are previous home addresses, employment history, educational background, list of family members (with address and phone numbers), references (also with addresses and phone numbers), organizational affiliations, and criminal history (if any).

Once they submit their e-QIP, DPSAC reviews it. The scientist receives an email from them a few days later stating that the questionnaire had incorrect or missing information. It’s nothing to panic over—DPSAC often reaches out with additional information requests. The scientist responds as soon as possible since waiting will delay the process.

“The single most important thing is to respond quickly to DPSAC requests for information and clarification and to have all the information required to complete the e-QIP questionnaire. One of the tangles in the questionnaire is a check box which says, ‘I do not have the information’ or ‘I do not have the phone number’; they will always respond with you must provide the information,” Rudden said.

“If the employee does not have the information requested, they’ll need to call the phone number that’s listed on the email request from DPSAC and talk to a representative for a resolution.”

Next, the new NCI at Frederick scientist receives an email to schedule fingerprinting and get their photo taken. Once their background check is complete and they’re approved for a PIV card, they receive another email to schedule badge issuance on a Tuesday that works for them, as issuances can only be scheduled on Tuesdays for new employees. They’ll be asked to think of a 6-to 8-digit PIN they’ll want to use for the PIV card and to bring a valid government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license, with them.

On the scheduled date and time, the scientist reports to the security offices on the NCI at Frederick campus to receive their PIV card. Their last step is to visit the Access Control Group to have the badge activated. They’re finally ready for their first day.

All told, there are many opportunities for discouragement if the onboarding process takes longer than expected. It’s challenging, but help is available. New hires, like this scientist, who ask for assistance and follow the instructions that are provided benefit from a smoother PIV card experience.


Jennifer Alexander is a communications specialist in the Frederick National Laboratory Public Affairs and Communications Office. The Public Affairs and Communications Office provides communication across internal and external channels to help tell the story of the Frederick National Laboratory to employees, the local community, and the global scientific community.