Eventually, the time comes for many of us to evaluate the marketability of the skills, qualifications, and experiences we have gained through government service. We hope a prospective employer will appreciate our proven leadership abilities, sharp intellect, and valuable training – fortunately, many do. One of the most valuable, and perpetually underestimated, qualifications that many of us bring to the table is our active security clearances. Today, thousands of employers are in a desperate hunt for cleared individuals to support a myriad of government agencies and programs.
Qualified job seekers will find they have a tremendous leg up on non-cleared candidates and, almost certainly, will benefit from a salary premium. Unfortunately, many people let their security clearances lapse. An active clearance is a commodity that must be actively maintained and managed.
With the global war on terror in full bloom, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, significant increases in defense spending, and the growing intelligence community, there never has been a greater demand for employees to work on classified programs. This strong demand has put a significant strain on the Defense Security Service (DSS), the government agency responsible for conducting background checks for the Department of Defense and other agencies. In fact, a recent report on DSS indicated it had a backlog of more than 500,000 applicants. Unfortunately for government and civilian employers, it can take non-cleared employees between six months and two years to receive a new clearance — an unacceptable time frame for many organizations that have significant contracts to deliver in the near term. In addition, the clearance process often is very expensive.
A government security clearance requires a periodic reinvestigation every 15 years for a “confidential” clearance, every 10 years for “secret,” and every 5 years for “top secret.” When a clearance is inactivated (because of switching jobs or leaving the military), it can be fairly easy to reinstate within the first 24 months, as long as that falls within the periodic reinvestigation window. After that, it becomes significantly more difficult. In other words, if your clearance is going to lapse, it is important for you to consider some options to reactivate it within the first two years.
How to Preserve Your Clearance
The easiest way to maintain security clearance is to take “cleared” positions with companies or government agencies. There certainly is no shortage of those opportunities today. A quick search among the nation’s top job boards finds thousands of open positions for individuals with active clearances. The USAJOBS government job board lists more than 1,000 types of positions requiring some type of clearance – from the intriguing “supervisory” intelligence officer position at the Defense Intelligence Agency to the slightly more mundane “staff auditor”. Utilizing Military.com's government job search might lead you to your next career.
There are specialty staffing companies that assist defense contractors and government agencies to fill temporary and full-time positions with cleared individuals. “We provide our employees the opportunity to work on tremendously important client projects. In addition to allowing flexible work schedules, we work actively to ensure our employees are able to maintain their security clearances,” said Bob Merkl, president of Secure IT Services, a staffing firm specializing in connecting cleared people with public- and private-sector opportunities. Companies seeking cleared candidates, he said, often pay a 5-20% salary premium.
Your active security clearance is one of the hottest tickets in town, don’t let it expire.