It’s a Presidential Election year, and if you thought all of the craziness is saved for the political candidates, think again. The state of the defense industry and security clearance community has been on a roller coaster ride. If you’ve had trouble keeping up (Continuous monitoring? A new bureau for background investigations? A 20 percent cut in defense department clearances?) – you’re not alone.
Fasten your seatbelt and let us break down the current State of the (Security Clearance) Union.
Slow Security Clearance Processing Times
Whether you’re trying to get a new candidate cleared or putting an employee up for a periodic reinvestigation, processing times are slow. It all began with the Office of Personnel Management hack and the 60-day shutdown of the eQIP system. Processing times never recovered, and now the DoD Central Adjudication Facility is also blaming budget cuts for exceptionally slow processing times.
Initial Secret clearances are now taking 116 days, Top Secret clearances are taking 203 days, and Periodic Reinvestigations are taking 227 days. Each of those are more than a month longer than the Insider Threat and Security Clearance Reform goals.
Security Clearance Baggage
A few short years ago – 2 years ago – having a security clearance was your ticket to job security and financial freedom. That may still be true, but it comes with other things now, too:
- Continuous monitoring.
- Increased scrutiny of social media activities.
- The possibility of having your most private information stolen and put into the hands of people you’d least like to have it – like ISIS.
In both the defense industry and commercial sector, hiring is up; unemployment is down.
Cleared candidates are thinking – is it really worth it? Do I want to work for the government anymore?
Security Clearance Cha Cha Changes
As long as there has been a security clearance investigations process, there has been talk about security clearance reform. But the OPM breach put those talks into overdrive, and prompted a 90-day review by the Performance Accountability Council. That review prompted the Obama Administration to announce a new agency to take over the background investigations process, called the National Background Investigations Bureau. While the agency won’t take the helm until 2019, it’s just one of many changes clearance holders face.
The next major change to the security clearance process? Continuous monitoring. Government officials are pushing OPM to move beyond the current five and ten year periodic reinvestigation process, in favor of continuous, automated checks of clearance holders. One government official is even proposing every clearance applicant be assessed an ‘integrity score’ based on his or her likelihood to share classified information.
Clearance holders have always known they trade their career for some privacy. But more than ever, signing off on an SF-86 is signing up for a lot more online scrutiny – without a great deal more accountability on the part of the government.
Security Clearances Under Pressure
What does all of this mean for the Security Clearance State of the Union? It’s a system under pressure – literally. Pressure from Congress, pressure from the White House, pressure from fed up applicants, pressure from hiring managers unable to move clearances through quickly.
In 2016, expect:
- Time to hire to increase.
- More competition between government contractors and the private sector.
- Increasing emphasis on building a talent pipeline.
Frustrated? We don’t blame you. In a system that may seem to leave you with little options and a lot of frustration, there are ways you can succeed – and thrive – in this ultra-competitive clearance hiring cycle. Here are just a few tips to help you cope with the current State of the Union:
1. Hire already cleared candidates.
Significant security clearance processing delays may mean you’re in a months-long holding pattern waiting for a candidate to be cleared. When possible, hire a candidate who already possesses the required clearance. If you do need to sponsor a clearance, follow these tips to speed up the process as much as you can.
2. Revamp your veteran hiring strategy.
Many companies are looking to veterans and millennials to fill their talent gaps – and for good reason. Veterans often have the defense industry background and security clearance you need. What they may lack? The requisite experience in a specific civilian career field. Where possible, give a vet credit for their military experience. It may not be exactly the same as being in a contract position, but the soft skills they learned in the military often more than make up for it.
3. Be an active recruiter.
The days of passively posting job listings and waiting for the perfect candidate to apply have long passed. Being an active recruiter is all about building a powerful network, and making maintaining that network a part of your daily routine. Maria Whitney, senior recruiter at Smartronix, describes active recruiting well:
Go beyond your general job boards for posting. Use specialized network sites, like the ClearanceJobs Cleared Network. Leverage the focused groups to target your preferred candidates…Target your focused group based on demographics and skill sets. Groups such as ‘Will Relo Northeast’ on the Cleared Network provide over 3,000 members who share a common desired location.
Like election years, the security clearance roller coaster ride will someday come to a stop. Great recruiting techniques – including being an active recruiter and making a talent pipeline a cornerstone of your hiring strategy – are here to stay, however. The best news? They make you look great no matter who’s in office.