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Concerns & Compensation Growing for Security-Cleared Talent

Total Earnings Growth Driven By Top Earners’ Gains, Finds ClearanceJobs.com Study

Des Moines, Iowa, March 19, 2012 – The average earnings of security-cleared professionals rose two percent in 2011, to an annual average of $90,865, according to a comprehensive survey with more than 11,000 professionals responding from ClearanceJobs.com, the leading online career network for professionals with an active federal security clearance. While a reversal of the ebb experienced last year, this is still below the high water mark of earnings ($92,368) for security cleared professionals in 2009.

Security-cleared annual salaries averaged $76,152 in 2011, a base pay jump of five percent compared to 2010. Additional forms of monetary compensation – including overtime, danger pay, stock options and bonuses – added $14,713, or 19 percent, to the average base salary figure.

Driving the overall compensation increase for the year? Rising earnings reported by security-cleared personnel at the top of the food chain. Respondents with earnings that ranked in the top 20 percent of the pay scale reported average base pay for 2011 of $136,076 and total compensation of $167,781, both rising four percent from 2010.

“In a period where the government and defense industry are facing comparatively austere times, there’s an understanding that losing experienced security-cleared talent has an exponential set of costs for organizations,” said Evan Lesser, the founder and Managing Director of ClearanceJobs.com. “Those costs can include finding and hiring suitable replacements with clearance, ensuring new employees are trained and certified to DOD standards, and the subsequent expense of project delays. Security-cleared professionals need reasons from their organizations as to why they should stay put and not jump to another employer.”

When taking into consideration at-risk talent, companies appear to be focusing in the right place. Excluding cleared military personnel, 28 percent of top earners noted they are likely to change jobs in the next year, that compares to just 15 percent of respondents who were at least likely to switch and ranked in the bottom 20 percent of earners.

Austerity = Anxiety Rising

The upward trend for compensation is accompanied by a rising level of anxiety for security-cleared professionals who have experienced government budget wrangling, defense spending cuts and the draw down of American military forces worldwide. Deep concerns over increased workloads caused by staff cuts soared to 40 percent of respondents in 2011 (from 28 percent in 2010). Fear of position elimination (38 percent), loss of contract funding (43 percent) and the relocation of positions (31 percent) also jumped significantly year to year.

“These are challenging times,” added Mr. Lesser. “Employees hear a constant drumbeat about spending cuts and doing more with less. However, given the relatively small pool of candidates, they understand that their talents combined with an active security clearance means they’re likely to continue to have a job. The question becomes, what does that job look like in terms of quantity of work and quality of life? Other industries have lost decades in talent development due to downbeat circumstances – that just creates long-term issues that will have to be dealt with eventually.”

Gender Parity

At first blush, overall compensation for security-cleared professionals appears to harbor a sharp gender divide: In 2011, security-cleared males out-earned females both in terms of mean base salary ($77,914 vs. $69,524) and total compensation ($93,983 vs. $79,098). However, that difference disappeared once the ClearanceJobs.com survey responses were adjusted to account for educational achievement, industry experience and job type. Simply put, the survey found that when education and experience are equal, either gender will be paid the same in positions spanning the sector.

Why such a marked difference in pay by gender then? It may well have to do with the different career tracks followed by women and by men, whether via self-selection or because of preconceived notions in the marketplace. According to the survey, female security-cleared talent are over-represented in finance, administrative, and legal positions and underrepresented in technical and engineering positions. Additionally, combat and security work overseas tends towards male workers; and these jobs usually include extra compensation for the risky nature of the work.

“If you ask a hundred people about cause and effect when it comes to gender, you’re likely to get a hundred different answers,” said Lesser. “But one thing stands out with real clarity: If you have the clearance, the talent, the qualifications and the opportunity, you’re going to earn what you’re worth without an eye toward gender. Not every industry can say that and not every job can say that. When two security-cleared candidates are equal, there’s no gender divide.”

The Nation’s Capital

Security-cleared professionals working in the Capital region (D.C., Maryland and Virginia) earned on average $97,838, a jump of four percent from a year ago (and back to the $97,821 average reported in 2009). This near-six-figure annual paycheck stands out as by far the highest average pay rate in America. In the region, base salaries totaled $88,049 in 2011, up six percent from the year before.

Outside the Capital region among states with more than 100 respondents, average annual compensation ranked the highest in Massachusetts ($90,927); New Jersey ($88,277); California ($87,952); Alabama ($85,906); and Colorado ($85,668) – all locations where engineering jobs play a key role in the industry.

Compensation Abroad

Among security-cleared professionals, a willingness to work outside the United States generally means the ability to earn more money. In 2011, personnel employed outside the U.S. had both substantially higher average total compensation (an annual gross of $135,154) than those working inside the U.S. ($85,981) and higher increases (in both base salaries and total compensation) from 2010 to 2011 than those in the U.S.

In the Middle East, security-cleared professionals earned on average $152,834 in 2011, an eight percent increase from the $141,166 earned a year ago. In countries that have witnessed substantial conflict, security-cleared professionals in Iraq earned average total compensation of $163,577 in 2011, ahead of their counterparts in Afghanistan, whose average yearly compensation stood at $158,885.


The 2012 Security Clearance Jobs Salary Survey was administered online by ClearanceJobs.com between November 17, 2011 and January 31, 2012. A total of 11,436 completed questionnaires were obtained, an increase over last year’s sample size total of 8,461. Security-cleared respondents were invited to participate in the survey through notifications on the ClearanceJobs.com home page and various communications and links. Participants had to have a current, active federal security clearance and be currently employed. Cypress Research Group provided the statistical analysis for the ClearanceJobs.com Compensation Survey.

About ClearanceJobs.com

ClearanceJobs.com, a Dice Holdings, Inc. service, is the leading Internet-based career network dedicated to matching security-cleared professionals with the best hiring companies searching for new employees. Authorized U.S. government contractors, federal agencies, national laboratories and universities utilize The Cleared Network to quickly and easily find candidates with specific, active security clearance requirements to fill open jobs in a range of disciplines. For more information, please visit www.ClearanceJobs.com

Media Contacts

Jennifer Bewley and Rachel Ceccarelli, 212-448-8288 cjmedia@clearancejobs.com