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This interview with Kathleen Smith, ClearedJobs.Net and CMO, appears on

In the world of federal government contracting—especially in the national security market—talented staff with security clearances are the lifeblood of the business. For the federal business development professional, security clearance trends are important to monitor because of their impact on contract awards and overall contract profitability—especially in a period where lowest price/technically acceptable source selections are common.

Q: It was reported earlier this year that the number of Department of Defense employees and contractors with security clearances has decreased by 20% in the last three years. A number of reasons have been cited for this: from the high-profile leaks of classified information by Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning to the 2013 Navy Yard shooting by a cleared government contractor. Other reasons offered include budget pressures and sequestration, the USIS security clearance investigation scandal, and the Office of Personnel Management data breach. What do you see as the primary drivers of the decline in the number of security clearances being issued?

A: Budget pressures, sequestration and the security breaches have all had an impact. There is also another reason for the decline of DoD employees and contractors with security clearances: maturation of the workforce. In 2013, the average age of federal employees was 47.3 years of age while according to the National Contract Management Association (NCMA), the average age of government contract employee is 50. When we interview security cleared job seekers at our Cleared Job Fairs many share that after a life of service to the country, they are looking for work that doesn’t require a clearance. Furthermore, the new workforce is not as willing to endure the challenges of going through the clearance process nor the limitations of security cleared work.

While many sources have stated that the Snowden and Manning cases impacted morale, they have not impacted professionals seeking security cleared positions. In general, these cases of sharing classified information tend to polarize the community into groups that believe that information should be more readily available and those that believe that national security takes priority.

Q: Do you anticipate this trend continuing or leveling off in the coming years?

A: We are in an election year, and until the new administration has been in office until the second quarter, we really won’t see any movement in the National Background Investigations Bureau. This will impact how security clearances are processed and if the delays can be lessened.

However, I have always been intrigued that there are communities of talented individuals who want to work on “the really cool stuff”. These are the talented professionals who will take the really hard, low paying jobs just to be on the cutting edge of protecting our country and solving the really difficult problems. This is inherent in the American spirit. We may see a decline in people seeking security cleared careers, but it will come back as well.

Q: The principles of supply and demand suggest that this trend would place an upward pressure on the salaries of staff with cleared personnel. Have you seen this to be the case?

A: While talent is harder to find, especially high level security cleared talent, the salaries are based on the pay scales set in the government contracts. So while one would think that security cleared salaries would escalate in this high demand environment like it would it in the commercial community, there are salary limits. This will always put pressure on cleared facilities employers to be competitive in their overall compensation packages.

Interesting enough some of the salary pressure on cleared facilities employers is also coming from the federal government who has now instituted bonuses for cyber security personnel as well as the military providing bonuses up to $60,000.

Q: Have you seen segmented impacts on salaries among small and large government contractors?

A: The beauty of the government contracting community is that it is made up of a wide variety of types of companies that range from product or service providers. While salaries may seem to be large at larger companies, they don’t always have the better benefits that smaller firms have. Savvy professionals look at the whole package when reviewing employment choices.

In the Washington DC area we all know that traffic plays an unfortunate role in our daily lives. While some companies may be able to offer a higher salary, if the commute is longer, an employee will be less than likely to make the move. Work life balance is very important to all employees and the ability to work remotely and have less commute are stronger motivators than salary.

Q: Has the reduction in security clearances had any additional second- or third-order effects such as employee retention impacts at government contractors?

A: The only secondary impact the security clearance process has had on employee retention is that employees shouldn’t move, or in some cases can’t move, if their clearance is up for reinvestigation or is in the process of being adjudicated.


Q: Clearly demand for cybersecurity professionals continues to be high. In which specific areas and job functions have you seen the greatest increase in demand for security-cleared personnel?


A: No one can argue that there has been a lot written about the talent shortage in cyber security talent and this extends to the security cleared community. One thing that hinders recruiting in cyber security is that there are so many cyber security myths. Cyber security impacts all sectors of the security cleared community and as we become more in tune with what cyber security really means, we learn that all job functions have some cyber security component.


As the list of government agencies that have been hacked grows, the security cleared personnel needed to protect these agency’s assets will grow further. However while there has been a lot of focus on the hacks of intelligence agencies and OPM, agencies that monitor and regulate the banking, health and energy sectors are also having a difficult time finding security cleared professionals who also have knowledge of Sarbanes Oxley or nuclear energy regulations.


The hardest jobs to fill are those that combine a technical knowledge with business or policy acumen. As cyber security permeates every aspect of our daily lives, having cyber security professionals who have the technical expertise as well as an understanding of the impact on business or policies are in high demand. This is clearly a career path that I frequently mentor many early cyber security professionals to consider: combining their technical knowledge with business methodologies and understanding.


Q: For security-cleared professionals, which certifications are popular in 2016? Are there any “up and coming” certifications that appear to be gaining cachet among the talent acquisition community?


A: Until certain federal requirements change, the DoD 8570 will be at the core foundation for the group of certifications a security cleared professional working in cyber security will need. Data scientists and data analysts are an increasing need within the security cleared community as the government gathers and processes more data. More data means a need for more professionals with C, C++ and Python, as well as an ability to utilize Apache Hadoop and MongoDB.


Q: Do you believe the establishment of the National Background Investigations Bureau addresses the root causes of the problems plaguing the federal security clearance system?


A: The federal security clearance system has needed an overhaul for some time. Legislators and administrators have been asking for this even before the OPM breach. Unfortunately we are looking at an overhaul that appears to be more window dressing rather than looking at key infrastructure changes. We will be further hampered by this being an election year.


Beyond the basic premise of a security clearance investigation and adjudication, we still have a suitability issue which is at the heart of security clearance reciprocity challenge. The government processes hundreds of thousands of security clearances each year, however, the cleared workforce is not able to transfer from one agency to another. We are losing diversity along with the security cleared workers. Each agency has its mission to uphold and in order to get a security clearance to work in each agency of these agencies we have differing standards of what is necessary to get a clearance. We either make reciprocity happen or we change the basic premise of what it means to have a security clearance.


If we are looking for a way to get more cyber security professionals into federal employment, the first step is to overhaul the site. Government contractors have a very distinct advantage in competing for talent in the cyber security and cleared communities if they adhere to good recruiting practices that treat candidates with respect and professionalism.


Q: Does ClearedJobs.Net offer talent acquisition solutions for both small and large government contractors?


A: Many people believe that recruiting is very straightforward when it actually is a multi level process that is in constant motion in order to secure a company’s success especially in the security cleared community. There is employer brand building which complements the branding and advertising that a company would deploy to secure business opportunities but focuses on the benefits of working with your company. This can be done through blog articles and social media which are then shared with our community.


Another component is building a talent pipeline of candidates which can be done through searching our resume database and attending a Cleared Job Fair. Many recruiters come from different backgrounds and not all have the same recruiting training. Our customer service team schedules monthly individual training with our customers to assist them to develop the correct searching strategies to meet their current and future workforce requirements. Our team also sends monthly reports so that our customers can evaluate the strategies that best work for them. At our Cleared Job Fairs, providing an overall high quality experience for both employer and job seeker is important to us. Our job seekers have consistently rated their experience as 99% positive and our employers share that they always find candidates to hire immediately at our events. We are the only job fair company with a Best Recruiter program where the job seekers vote for the recruiters who provide the best overall recruiting experience.


Finally for we provide job posting services including automatic posting of companies job requirement and assistance in developing the optimal job posting for an open position. What our customer like most about working with ClearedJobs.Net is our flexibility to create talent acquisition packages that meet their needs. We do not require a 12 month contract, but rather offer 1, 3, 6 and 12 month contracts for a variety of packages that can include resume database licenses, job postings and job fairs.


Q: If a contractor is interested in learning more about the benefits of an account with ClearedJobs.Net, what is the best way to connect with your company?


A: We have a great team that is happy to provide companies with solutions to their talent acquisition challenges in the security cleared and cyber security communities. Our account managers all have recruiting backgrounds to help our customers build the plan that best meets their needs. The best person to contact is Carter Goodnough.


Aug 26 2016