So many of us have been in this anxiety-inducing position - you’re applying for a job with the federal government’s USAJOBS website and are required to submit your most up-to-date SF 50 along with your application package. But where is it and how do you get it?
These questions are especially crucial if you once worked for the federal government and left your agency or the federal government altogether. But now your dream job has been posted on USAJOBS and you want to apply as soon as possible. Since most of the job postings are only available for a brief time period, you will need all the required documents on hand as soon as possible. Added to the dilemma is that the federal government creates the form, requires the form, and provides the form but all of that happens within different agencies, so it can be confusing to know where to turn for answers.
While requesting a copy of an SF 50 has normally been a rather basic procedure, the Covid-19 pandemic has very much disrupted the process. Still, USAJOBS requires this form from current federal employees seeking new job opportunities and from previous federal employees wishing to return to federal service. The frustration people are feeling when they cannot put their hands on their SF 50 is real. Hopefully, the information here will make the process as straightforward as possible.
What is the SF 50 anyway?
The Standard Form 50, or SF 50, is well known enough to have its own Wikipedia page, yet it remains elusive for some reason. This humble form, familiar at least by name to most every federal government employee, is essentially a Notification of Personnel Action specific to each employee. It contains a wealth of information, such as series, grade, and pay, about that employee, not to mention their personal identifying information, or PII, like their social security number and date of birth.
Once an employee begins working for the federal government, they will soon notice work emails saying that a document has been added to their electronic folder, and this is very often the SF 50. This happens whenever there is a change of information due to hiring, promotions, a grade increase, retiring, resigning or even getting a cash award - all these actions indicate a new SF 50 has been created and added to your personnel folder. These forms are all available for employees to access through their agency’s internal network.
(Sample SF 50, courtesy of OPM.gov)
How do I get my SF 50 if I’m a current federal government employee?
If you currently work for a federal government agency, the good news is you should be able to access your SF 50 through your electronic eOPF folder using your agency’s internal network. If you are not sure how to do that, contact your agency’s Human Resources (HR) department for assistance. If you know how to do that – instant SF 50! Of course, this can only be done while using work computers or on an agency-provided laptop. You cannot access your eOPF from your personal computer.
A reminder for current federal government employees: Should you leave federal service, be sure to get a copy of your final SF 50 while you still have access to your eOPF. You never know when you might need a copy in the future!
How do I get my SF 50 if I have left federal service?
If you are no longer in the federal work service and did not get a copy of your SF 50 before losing access to your agency’s internal network, here is some information that should help you:
According to the Office of Personnel Management’s web page, OPM - Frequently Asked Questions, it typically takes 120 days from the date of separation for a former employee’s personnel folder to be transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration’s Civilian Personnel Records Center, or CPR, which is located in Valmeyer, Illinois.
- If it has not been 120 days since your separation, contact the Human Resources department of your former agency for help.
- If it has been 120 days or more, submit a written request to the Civilian Personnel Records Center.
NOTE: While some people use the SF 180 to request their SF 50, the SF 180 isn’t exactly set up for that purpose but is more for requesting military documents. When such requests come to the National Personnel Records Center, and the SF 180 indicates the need for the SF 50, those requests are forwarded to the CPR, therefore do not worry you used the SF 180 for that purpose. Just note that there is no specific form for requesting the SF 50 and if using the SF 180, be sure to indicate you are requesting your SF 50 and sign the form before sending it.
It is perfectly acceptable to submit a written request on a sheet of plain paper if you are requesting your SF 50 and (this part is important) all the following information:
- Your full name. Be sure to put the name used while in federal service even if it has changed since then.
- Your date of birth.
- Your Social Security Number.
- The name of the agency or agencies in which you were employed.
- The dates of employment (approximate dates will work if you don’t have exact dates).
- Where to send it – please note that at this time, SF 50s cannot be emailed for security reasons so be sure to include your mailing address or a safe fax number.
- The purpose of the request, (e.g. employment). If it is an emergency, please state the reasons your SF 50 is urgently needed.
- Most importantly, it must contain your signature! Requests submitted without a signature cannot and will not be processed. Why such a strict rule? Because your signature is considered your authorization for the release of your personal identifying information (PII).
There are 3 ways to submit your request:
Mail it to the National Personnel Records Center, Annex, 1411 Boulder Boulevard, Valmeyer, IL 62295
- Fax it to 618-935-3014 or 618-935-3019
- Email it to email@example.com
If emailing your request, you must still submit a signature! Simply sign a sheet of paper saying you authorize the CPR to release your SF 50 and be sure to both print and sign your name. Then scan and upload that document or PDF to your email to the CPR.
Once the CPR receives your request, they will process it through all their systems to determine if they have a possible record. If no record is found, they will send a negative response letter. If a record is found, it will be sent to the address or fax number provided.
Common mistakes that slow down the process:
- Not providing enough information.
- No signature.
We know we already said that, but these two things are so important!
Very often, people resist providing all of the information needed to complete a request. While it’s understandable to be hesitant to share PII to request an SF 50, please know that, much like the NPRC does when veterans request their military documents, the CPR needs this information for your security. It is the way to ensure the correct records are not only located, and match the information provided, but are also sent to the correct person and only the correct person.
Please provide a thorough request with all the above-mentioned information and make sure you sign it, or it could slow down the process.
How long will it take?
Prior to the Covid pandemic, the CPR had a turnaround time of ten days, but they are unable to guarantee such a time frame now.
If your request is an emergency, please state that on your request and they will do all they can to assist you.
Emergency requests may be faxed to 618-935-3095 but must contain the reason for the emergency/urgency. And yes, it can be urgently needed for employment reasons if time is of the essence for applying for a position.
If you do not have an urgent need for your SF 50, please be patient as the staff at the CPR are priotizing on emergency requests.
Also please know that your Official Personnel File is not filed in a large filing cabinet under your last name (or there would be 500 rows, all 10,000 feet long for former employees named John Smith alone). The CPR uses a filing system based on other criteria, likely based on year and government agency, and searching for these records takes time and accuracy. The CPR values your privacy and your records, so please know that they take the utmost care when pulling your records. They are working as fast as they can for you under difficult circumstances!
How can I get an update on my request?
Email your inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org
Which SF 50 should I use when there are so many of them?
Be sure to read the job posting thoroughly to see what kind of SF 50 is required. Very often, they will not accept an Award SF 50. If you received a cash bonus and a new SF 50 was created to document that award, it’s best not to use that SF 50 when applying for new positions with the federal government. Try to use the most recent and general SF 50 in your folder.
The CPR can be relied on to pull your final SF 50 if you are no longer in federal service; however, if you are accessing your eOPF yourself, just be aware that there are different types of SF 50s!
Hopefully, this information has removed some of the mystery behind the SF 50 and prepared you for what to expect if requesting it from the CPR. It’s possible that the future will involve the CPR being able to securely send SF 50s digitally, or via email, much like the NPRC is beginning to do for veterans. Until then, please continue to mail/fax/or email your requests to the CPR using the information provided here.
If you want to know even more about the specifics of the SF 50, USAJOBS has a useful webpage with even more detailed information you can check out here, Reading your SF-50 to determine your service and appointment type.
Interesting Fact: Technically, the records are in a cave. Yes, your former personnel file lives in a climate-controlled cave that is quite amazing inside. Caves are common storage facilities in the Midwest and if you’re curious how the National Archives utilizes caves as storage facilities, check out our web page, The National Archives Goes Underground.
If this blog did not answer your question(s), please let us know what we left out and we’ll do what History Hub does best – find the answers for you! Finally, a special thanks to the CPR Reference Branch Chief for her much-appreciated help with this blog.