Despite seismic scandals affecting the security clearance community (from the Office of Personnel Management hack to Edward Snowden) and a roughly 30 percent reduction in the size of the cleared candidate pool, salaries remain largely unchanged. According to the 2017 ClearanceJobs Compensation Survey results, total compensation for all surveyed security-cleared professionals worldwide is $86,902. Average total compensation is down 1.27% overall since 2014, the last time ClearanceJobs conducted a salary survey.

“These numbers really highlight the challenges facing recruiters and hiring managers in the cleared space,” said Evan Lesser, founder and president of “We have a very strong commercial sector and a still struggling defense sector. While there are still high-paying jobs, the competition for those professionals is incredibly strong.

The top five highest-paid job categories are Systems Engineering ($118,865), IT Software ($116,881), Sales ($104,864), IT Security ($101,901) and Legal ($100,263).

Two market trends support salary stagnation in the defense market today: the continued prevalence of Lowest Price Technically Acceptable contract awards, and a shift in the demographic makeup of the cleared candidate workforce. In 2013 then Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called on the intelligence community to reduce the number of higher level security clearances, and that bore out in survey responses. Professionals with a TS or higher clearance made up 46% of survey respondents in 2017 — down 5% since last surveyed in 2014. Secret candidates made up nearly 39% of the respondents in 2017, up 1% since 2014.

The issuing agency behind the security clearance is also a major driver of compensation. Candidates with security clearances issued by the intelligence agencies (NSA, CIA, FBI) reported a 5.53% increase in average base salary since last surveyed. Candidates with security clearances issued by the Dept. of Energy (Q or L) reported a 7.53% increase in average base salary since last surveyed — the highest overall increase.

The top five highest-paid agencies are the CIA ($121,120), NSA ($107,947), Department of Homeland Security ($101,901), Department of Energy ($100,500), and Department of State ($98,146).

With continued market uncertainty, processing delays and flat compensation, you might think the cleared workforce would come to work with a chip on their shoulder. That’s hardly the case — 64% of surveyed cleared professionals indicated they are “somewhat” or “very satisfied” with their current jobs. That’s higher than the roughly 50 percent satisfaction score the average American gives their current job.[i]

53% of security-cleared professionals surveyed said they were “likely” or “very likely” to change jobs in the coming year. Unsurprisingly, respondents whose salaries were in the lowest 20% were the most likely to consider switching jobs. The difference in the average base salary between those “very likely” and those “not at all likely” to change jobs was 10%.

Read more survey results in our comprehensive Salary Report.


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Lindy Kyzer is the editor of She loves the NISPPAC, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email Interested in writing for Learn more here.