Things have slowed down in the halls of government as well as in the offices at government contractors when it comes to filling positions and hiring in general. According to Performance.gov, clearance review fell short of government wide performance goals last year. Moreover initial secret and top secret cases took an average of 95 to 179 days to process.
The slowdown in clearance checks shouldn’t deter those seeking government or contractor positions. Patience can pay off. Government agencies and contractors continue to offer excellent jobs with good salaries that go with them. In 2016 both the government and contracting companies continue to seek qualified, well trained, security-cleared candidates, even getting that job still takes time.
Determining which route might be the best fit is also up for debate. The best career course for an individual is based on a number of considerations, and according to experts, the hard fast rules aren’t so hard anymore – and as noted, nothing about the hiring process should ever be considered fast.
Compare and Contrast
It is typically said that contractor jobs pay more, the positions are easier to get and are considered to provide for a better work/life balance. By contrast, it is often argued that government jobs have more security and stability, while also providing a truer sense of “serving one’s country.”
In today’s job market those could be too simplistic ways to look at the different sides of the argument; and as the saying goes “the grass is not always greener.” While it’s not as simple as one being better than the other, the “basics” are still generally true in the most broad sense.
“Government wages are based on the grade you are hired at,” said Christopher Burgess, CEO of Prevendra, a firm specializing in privacy and intelligence. “If you are in the private sector you are more likely to be able to monetize your skill set and thus make more money. If you are chasing the money and it is your primary driving force then even in this environment a contractor job can be the way to go. However, some take the opinion that the work is not as rewarding.”
The Office of Personnel Management has released the Salary Table 2016-GS, which has been revised this month to reflect the basic cost of living adjustment. The second component of the GS salary also includes the locality pay adjustment, which was introduced in 1994 as part of the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990 (FEPCA). As of this year 44 metropolitan areas as well as Alaska and Hawaii have been designated to receive an excess adjustment.
Those living in some parts of the country – notably in larger and thus more expensive cities – can see a salary bump when working for certain government agencies. On the flip side contractor positions have tended to not to be based on set tables. The salary flexibility of contractor positions tends to make them more lucrative.
The times may be changing however.
“Having served in the military in the U.S. Navy, in the federal service and as a government contractor it isn’t so black and white,” said Charlie Sowell, senior vice president for national security and cyber solutions at Fairfax, Virginia-based Salient CRGT. “Contractors do not always get paid more than government employees. Take a government analyst and they can typically be paid better than a contractor.”
Long or Short View
Another factor when it comes to pay can be based on a short term or long term view. While it can often be easier to get a contractor position, the stability may not be there, and that can offset any advantages that come with the bigger paycheck. Lack of long term job security can mean more worry over saving for a rainy day or making long term plans.
“Government positions are generally considered pretty stable and you can get in on the ground floor, and as long as you do a good job you should be able to count on having that position for a long time,” said Gregory F. Greiner, senior counsel at the Tully Rinckey Law firm. “On the contractor side I’ve had clients bounce from job to job because a contract runs out or they aren’t quite the right fit for the position. Another downside is that contractors might not get the same level of retirement benefits to go with the job. The pay can be good in the beginning but it can even out with time.”
The result is a short term attractiveness to work as a contractor for salary said Greiner, who regularly works with clients on security clearance related issues. “In the long term the government job could flip a little bit when it comes to pay and retirement benefits, especially for those who put in years of service.”
Ability to Serve
It is also too simplistic to suggest that government jobs offer a greater sense of serving, especially today when the private sector is counted on as much as ever.
“The job is what matters and what should matter,” said Sowell. “This is not a time card punching type of position by any means and it is important to stress that on both ends; the mission comes first.”
At the same time it shouldn’t be said that a contractor follows while the government employee always leads. In both cases the cleared worker will be reporting to someone – of a higher pay grade – and in both cases following direction is the key to ensuring the job gets done, and that it gets done right.
“There is always someone directing a project,” Sowell told ClearanceJobs.com. “As a contractor it doesn’t minimize the contribution in any way. It is about the project and whether the person in charge is a good leader. That is important on either side of the fence.”
The aforementioned time to get the job – as noted by last year’s findings – remains an issue, but so is the ability to climb the ladder. Contractors could have an advantage here.
“Hiring remains much quicker in industry, but that is just half of it,” added Sowell. “The speed of promotion can be faster as well, as it can be merit and achievement based. That isn’t the case with government workers. There is a prescribed time for promotion in the military, and many government positions have time and grade factors that are implied and real.”
Supply and Demand
At the end of the day, market conditions still determine job opportunities,and what those positions could and will pay. As with everything else, what was true yesterday might not hold true tomorrow. Certain skill sets could be once again in demand based on real world factors, and with it this brings the potential for higher pay for contractors and government employees, while other jobs could disappear if the skills aren’t required.
“From a cleared job perspective it is important to look beyond what the position commands in terms of salary today but also in the future,” suggested Sowell. “Some roles will be paid less or simply go away.”
Sowell warned that while IT security jobs may be in demand today there is no guarantee that will remain the case even as the world become ever more high tech. On the other hand as another saying goes “everything old is new again,” and the changing geopolitical climate could be something else to consider.
“Russian linguists that couldn’t get work just 10 years ago can now demand higher salaries today; who would have thought the old Cold War jobs would be back in vogue,” Sowell added. “As for what jobs might demand more in the future, well we won’t know until it hits us in the face.”