A comprehensive study from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published in 2017 shows that for over half a decade, there has been a nearly insurmountable backlog of security clearance applicants. The security clearance backlog in 2019 is still an obstruction for those seeking clearance, which is why it is critical that professionals who have a clearance keep it active.
In fiscal year 2012, 59% of executive branch agencies included in the GAO’s study indicated they met timeliness standards for the investigation and adjudication of initial top secret clearances. By fiscal year 2016, that figure dropped to just 10% of agencies. Steps have been taken to improve the clearance process since then, but it remains a significant problem.
In 2019, the security clearance backlog has decreased 32%. Charles Phalen, National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) Director, said, “The numbers are still not where they need to be, but we’ve moved that needle significantly.” On average, it took 468 days to process top secret clearances and 234 days to process secret clearances for Department of Defense and industry applicants in the first quarter of fiscal year 2019.
While the ongoing security clearance backlog is crippling government agencies, it provides an advantage to I.T. professionals with an active clearance. There are many benefits of having a security clearance in the I.T. industry, especially the ability to fill certain positions that require clearance without getting caught in the backlogged application process. With fewer cleared individuals available to apply, you may have less competition than usual.
At Sentient Digital, Inc., we use our security clearances to leverage opportunities, and we want to help you do the same. Keep reading to learn more about how you can maintain an active clearance, your opportunities during the ongoing backlog, and how clearance investigation reforms will reshape the government contracting industry.
How to Keep Your Clearance Active
The first step to maintaining an active clearance is to understand the three statuses of security clearances:
- Active — a clearance that has not been terminated.
- Current — a terminated clearance that is still eligible for reinstatement.
- Expired — a terminated clearance that is no longer eligible for reinstatement.
As most cleared professionals know, if your security clearance expires, then you will need to reapply and deal with the security clearance backlog. If your clearance just moves from active to current, you can reactivate it without having to re-enter the backlog of applicants, as long as you use it before it expires.
There are two requirements for keeping your clearance active:
- You must be actively using your clearance at the level it was issued. For example, even if you were issued a secret clearance, your work may only require you to access confidential information. In that case, your secret clearance would be considered “current” instead of “active” after two years.
- You must remain in the position where you received your clearance for it to remain active. If your contract is terminated or you leave your position, your clearance will receive a “current” status. You can easily reactivate your clearance by entering another covered position within two years.
Reinvestigating Your Security Clearance
Your security clearance won’t expire if you’re actively using it in the right position at the right level. But it will be reinvestigated.
In most cases, this is a trivial process. Given the significant security clearance backlog in 2019, however, you should be as proactive as possible about following your clearance reinvestigation.
In a guest post published on ClearanceJobs in 2018, for example, an individual explains how their reinvestigation paperwork allegedly fell through the cracks for over a year. This was after their periodic reinvestigation came two years late already. Three years later, they were suddenly required to have their clearance fully adjudicated and could no longer perform their job. They claim that it took over a year of time and a congressional query to become cleared again.
Don’t allow your reinvestigation to fall behind. Know when you are due for periodic reinvestigation and keep tabs on it. The frequency of reinvestigation varies depending on your level of clearance:
- Confidential clearances are reinvestigated every 15 years.
- Secret clearances are reinvestigated every 10 years.
- Top secret clearances must be reinvestigated every 5 years and are subject to randomized reinvestigation.
To avoid delays with your security clearance, make sure you provide accurate information, you have your finances in order, and you are prepared to address any potential security issues you may present.
Follow up with your facility security officer (FSO) if you are late receiving your periodic reinvestigation notice, if an NBIB agent fails to schedule a meeting or meet with you, or if you do not hear back about the results of your reinvestigation in a timely manner.
What Caused the Security Clearance Backlog?
By understanding what caused the security clearance backlog we face in 2019, you can better understand your competitive position as someone who has a clearance already.
The backlog didn’t happen overnight, and there were multiple contributing factors that lead us to where we are today. One such factor is a lack of universal screening standards across the United States’ 17 distinct intelligence agencies. This system proved to be inefficient and ineffective.
According to The Associated Press, another contributing factor was the tragedy that occurred in 2013 in Washington’s Navy Yard. A security-cleared Navy contractor shot and killed a dozen individuals. After the incident, it was revealed that he had been arrested previously and there were warning signs about his mental health. Investigators had failed to examine either, allowing him to maintain a security clearance. The shooting rattled the public and its high profile exposed issues with the investigation process, leading it to come under more scrutiny.
Prior to this incident, the Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning leaks had already contributed to an atmosphere of mistrust surrounding security clearance processes. When the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) had its computer systems hacked in 2015, it confirmed that the investigation process was not only inefficient and unthorough, but also that the entire system was compromised and would need to be revised.
Each of these factors compounded together over the course of several years to stall the clearance process and create the security clearance backlog in 2019.
What the Backlog Means for Cleared I.T. Professionals
As mentioned previously, the security clearance backlog means cleared professionals are in high demand. The backlog makes it challenging for companies and government agencies to clear new applicants, so those who are currently cleared are a scarce and valuable commodity.
Subsequently, employers may be willing to pay higher salaries and offer more competitive benefits to obtain your services. Andrew Hunter, a military acquisition expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “I’m told there are billions of dollars being spent for people who are on payrolls but they’re not able to do the work because they’re waiting for a clearance.” Instead of wasting money on employees who can’t do their jobs yet, organizations likely would be willing to pay a higher salary to someone who already has the right security clearance.
If you work in certain industries, you may have even more of an advantage. Mike Hatcher, chief revenue officer of By Light, said, “There are a few disciplines where workers are desperately short. Cyber is one, but Big Data/AI is another. That is where you need to be able to offer the benefits and have a culture that can make the difference.”
As a cleared I.T. professional, you are not subject to slowdowns from the security clearance backlog in 2019. This can give you more options and bargaining power in your career.
The Impact of Security Clearance Reforms on the Backlog
According to the GOA’s December 2017 report to Congress, the steps taken to clear the investigation backlog are insufficient to fulfill the immediate demands of executive branch agencies requiring cleared professionals. However, uncleared workers should be able to gain clearances in upcoming years on reasonable timelines.
Under the leadership of Charles Phalen, the NBIB has decreased the number of backlogged cases from 725,000 in 2018 to 498,000 in April of 2019, or by 32%. ClearanceJobs reports that the NBIB has completed around 45% of its goal.
In order to create a more efficient system, the NBIB has employed technology to reduce the labor intensity of some of this work. Using artificial intelligence, for instance, the NBIB has decreased the number of hours investigators spend in the field by 52%.
Gary Reid, Director of Defense Intelligence, indicates they are seeing dramatic improvement with the use of continuous evaluation over field work. “We are now up to over 100,000 clearance holders in DoD who came up for PRs [periodic reinvestigations] who didn’t break the threshold for requiring an investigation, so boom, their PR is done and it cost us less than $100,” Reid stated.
Not only should reforms provide easier access to clearances, but also they may create more contracting opportunities for I.T. professionals to modernize government technology.
Put Your Security Clearance to Use at SDi
The system failures and data leaks that contributed to the security clearance backlog in 2019 have been eye-opening for our community. Ethical, security-cleared I.T. professionals who can boost our national security and international economy, rather than compromise them, are needed now more than ever. Even as clearance reforms are chipping away at the backlog, cleared workers remain in high demand.
Sentient Digital, Inc. is always looking for suitable I.T. professionals to join our team. We are committed to finding positions that suit your skills and experience, as well as providing you with new contracts to work on when old ones end. We offer a full range of competitive employee benefits as well.
If you’re ready for challenging opportunities that will enhance your career, contact us online or call 504-308-1464 today to learn more.