The buzz about budget cuts in the nation’s capitol may be casting shadows on employment projections for the coming year. But it’s not all doom and gloom.  A job growth spurt that began in 2011 is still trending upward, and the 5 percent unemployment rate is well below the national average. The region is economically healthy and also the most security conscious.  That leaves transitioning service members with a security clearance in prime position for jobs – even in an uncertain market.

A Snapshot of the Big Three

The Census Bureau designates D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia as one metropolitan statistical area. But logistically, only 45 miles separates the central cities.  In short, the capitol region is a small pocket in a big country, one that serves as office space for some 3 million workers – and counting.

Despite concerns the hiring rate could get sluggish, technology expansions are still expected to drive the economy forward. In a competitive job market, a security clearance will remain a distinct advantage.

“The greater Washington area has always been the dominant market for security clearance hiring, due to the sheer volume of positions which require some level of clearance,” said Evan Lesser, managing director of “That demand rises in industries such as cyber security, which has seen massive growth and requires a high level of expertise, as well as a high level clearance.”

Skills in High Demand

Wanted Technologies provides business intelligence and tracks employment trends.  Marketing manager, Ashley Rowe, reported in July 2012, that the region was in hot demand for computer system analysts, web developers, network and computer systems administrators, software engineers and systems engineers. Rowe also reported a security clearance was consistently listed among the top five most requested job certifications. And it isn’t just an asset for landing a job. It pays.

The most recent salary survey conducted by, revealed pay increases for technical jobs in defense, finance and accounting, human resources and administration.  Currently, program and project managers in information technology and engineering earn among the highest salaries; between $121,496 and $123,199.  Software and systems engineers earn around $113,000, and web developers make upwards of $101,000.

Geography also matters. For example, cleared professionals in Fairfax County, Va. earn about $104,000. In D.C., they earn $96,193, and in Prince George’s County, Md., $90,221.

Cost of Living

As goes salary, so goes cost of living. The Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors puts the median home price at $357,000 in Montgomery County, Md., and $429,000 in D.C.  The Northern Virginia Association of Realtors puts the price at $435,000.

Zip codes and commutes dictate housing costs. On average, the commute time is about 34 minutes for residents of Alexandria, Va., where the price of a 1,300 square foot townhouse is about $300,000. That same price buys a 3,000 square foot home with acreage in Winchester, Va.  But it comes with a two-hour drive.

Given the region’s circuitous map, most roads lead to job opportunities with higher than average incomes for cleared workers.

The District of Columbia 
D.C. remains the starting point for all things federal. The government accounts for 29 percent of jobs according to a February 2012 Gallup poll, with education, finance, public policy and scientific research all expected to grow.  But the post 9/11 culture has embedded the value of a security clearance for most career fields.

Scott Binkney, recruiting lead for Smartronix, a global professional solutions provider which specializes in NetOps, cyber security and engineering, says when technical skills are a match among job candidates, a security clearance becomes the distinguishing factor.

“When a service member has a clearance, it most certainly gives them an advantage over un-cleared individuals,” he said.  “More than 80 percent of our positions hold a clearance.  The time it takes for an individual to obtain a clearance can vary from days to over a year.  We can’t possibly wait a year to fill an opening.”

Growing Demand for IT Professionals

Binkney sees growing demand for system administrators, network engineers and cyber security, and also cites emerging growth in .NET development and SharePoint development, also cloud engineering and cloud environment training. Cloud computing pay scales are rising, with engineers earning more than $100,000.

Here, a clearance is an asset if not a requirement for government positions and those in the district’s military installations. These include Fort McNair, Bolling AFB, and Naval District Washington.

Apart from the work-a-day world, Washington’s culture has always been a draw.  The skyline is a timeline of the nation’s history, with monuments and museums chronicling more than 200 years of American pride. But there’s more than patriotism here. A 2011 Gallup Poll ranked the District number one for resident confidence in the economy, which received more stimulus dollars per capita than any state; a whopping $10,586.

D.C. has an educated population, with the Census Bureau reporting that 47 percent of adults have a college degree. As a result, hiring managers have their pick of skilled workers.  With that kind of competition, a security clearance is a game changer in the hiring process.

Northern Virginia
Dubbed the economic engine of the state, Northern Virginia has followed its roots in technology.  It was among the first regions to be wired for Internet use, thanks to America Online (AOL).  Decades later, job growth still progresses along a widening circuit of technological expansion.

Fairfax County

Fairfax County is dense with defense jobs, including those in the private sector. The county hosts more than 6,700 technology firms and ten companies on the 2012 Fortune 500 List. Fairfax County Economic Development Authority counts more than 26 million square feet of office space in Tysons Corner alone, once known only as a shopping district outside the community of McLean, Va. Now it serves as headquarters for Booz Allen Hamilton, Capital One Financial, Freddie Mac, Gannett and SAIC.

Home to major offices for defense giants like General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, there’s always a hunt for security cleared workers in aerospace, engineering, research and development, homeland security, project management and biomedical sciences.

Bobbie Kilberg, President and CEO of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, the largest in the nation, cites the region’s strong defense contractor base for keeping the technology corridor recession-resistant. She projects both good and bad news ahead.

“Our region is going to be hit rather hard by federal contracting cutbacks in both defense and civilian agencies,” said Kilberg.  “But there will be bright spots in the areas of intelligence, cyber security, healthcare IT, smart energy and data storage, including cloud computing.”

Arlington County

Next door, Arlington also foresees new jobs.

“We expect growth in cyber security, homeland security, intelligence and counterintelligence, logistics, foreign services and IT,” said Arlington Economic Development BRAC Coordinator, Andrea Morris.

She advises cleared job seekers to pay close attention to federal agency budget news.

“They can learn where budget requests are increased and decreased, giving them a clear picture of agency and administration priorities,” she said.  “There will be great job opportunities in 2013, and the cleared applicant already has a good head start.”

One of the world’s largest defense contractors, BAE Systems, bases its U.S. headquarters in Rosslyn, Va.  Amanda Desourdis, spokesperson, said the company’s Warrior Integration Program is designed specifically to attract security cleared veterans.

“We believe they have demonstrated a remarkable and outstanding commitment to discipline, team work and ethical behavior,” said Desourdis.  “Those with a security clearance are especially valued because they have earned special trust with the government.”

Arlington County offers diverse opportunities. Crystal City and Pentagon City house government and Pentagon satellite offices, while Ballston has the biggest cluster of science and technology positions. Ballston is home to the National Science Foundation, Office of Naval Research, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency and CACI.

Loudon County

Further south, Loudon County is thriving, with some 9,500 businesses and 137,000 employees.  Major employers include the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Transportation, Orbital Sciences Corporation and Verizon.  Scientific and technical services jobs are highest in demand and pay an average of $94,000. The Virginia Employment Commission puts the pay for software and systems developers at $116,000, and biomedical engineers at $100,000.

Loudon expects a growth rate in professional, scientific and technical jobs of 43 percent by 2020.  In August, CNN Money named Loudon the best county in the nation for job growth, citing fiber networks and a data center industry so expansive it’s known as data center alley.

More than 900 federal government contractors are based in Loudon County. Along with private sector prospects, the wealth of cleared, civilian opportunities keeps growing at Fort Belvoir, and the host of military and law enforcement agencies based in Quantico.

Virginia counties have topped the lists of wealthiest counties in the nation for several years now. Those wielding a clearance can choose between big communities or small towns with big potential. Ashburn, with a population of less than 60,000, is one of the top 10 earning towns in the nation. The median family income is $146,000, according to Money Magazine.

BRAC is serving Maryland well. By 2015, the adjustment of positions and facilities will have ushered in 20,000 federal and another 40,000 related jobs. Maryland now outperforms the nation in job growth.

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce cites IT, telecommunications and aerospace as sectors with high growth potential ahead.  Biotechnology is also at an all time high, as are jobs in computer systems design, management, and scientific and technical consulting.

“With Maryland serving as the cyber security epicenter of the country, opportunities abound for veterans with security clearances,” said Kathleen Snyder, President and CEO, Maryland Chamber of Commerce.  “Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and SAIC are among the large defense and information technology companies seeking employees with security clearances in central and southern Maryland.”

On the eastern side, Prince George’s County employs more than 200,000 in one of the largest technology and aerospace sectors. Major employers include Comcast, Verizon and CSC, a global technology solutions provider with 95,000 employees worldwide. Federal opportunities include the Food and Drug Administration, NOAA, NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center and Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility. Transitioning service members with a clearance have an advantage for jobs in these agencies.

“They understand a mission approach to getting the job done,” said Vice Admiral Peter H. Daly USN (Ret), CEO, U.S. Naval Institute. “I recommend they leverage their very valuable security clearance and documented history of handling classified information.”

The BRAC process increased job opportunities throughout Maryland’s military installations where security clearances are gold.  But it transformed Fort Meade when it took in the Defense Intelligence Services Agency and became the home to the newly created U.S. Cyber Command. Aberdeen Proving Ground also exploded from the combination of new federal and contractor jobs, increasing the population of workers to more than 21,000. Job opportunities go beyond defense and IT, to include legal, procurement, public affairs and logistics.

As for quality of life, Maryland is adjacent to all D.C. offers, and has its own set of attractions.  They include the Eastern Shore, National Aquarium, Baltimore’s inner harbor and historic Annapolis.

All told, security cleared job seekers looking to relocate to the nation’s capitol are heading into a healthy economy.  IT fields are booming – and boomers are retiring.  Transitioning service members with a security clearance are in a strong position to take over those vacancies and land newly created positions as well.

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Tranette Ledford is a writer and owner of Ledford, LLC, which provides writing, editorial and public relations consulting for defense, military and private sector businesses. You can contact her at: