Everybody loses with slow security clearance processing times. Rep. Steve Knight (R-Calif.) complains, “too many skilled Americans are sitting around waiting for the federal government to approve their clearances to start working to protect our national security.”

It’s bad enough the federal government cannot match cybersecurity salaries with industry levels. The problem for many needed skills is hiring timelines. It’s easy to shrug off the impact of a slow processing time, but it’s important to understand the ripple effect of a 700,000 plus case backlog.

Right Clearance, Wrong Candidate

Wrong candidates are hired for an open position – either in the federal government or in federal contractor positions. This doesn’t mean the candidate is a bad employee, but a major component of the hiring factor becomes how quickly the candidate can move through the system. A current clearance becomes almost as important as skills. And that means great candidates give up on government entirely.Positions will either be filled by overqualified candidates or worse, under qualified candidates. Neither scenario is ideal for the client, the contractor, or the candidate. It’s a lose-lose-lose situation.

Mission Critical Work, No Cleared Candidates to Do It

Positions remain unfilled and work goes uncompleted. Not only does this impact the project status, but it creates stress on all the employees to complete their own tasks and those of the unfilled positions. While some teams can pick up the slack and fill in the gaps, it is often impossible to do everything well. Project or team goals are unmet and employee morale goes down with unfilled positions. Those who pick up the slack feel overworked, underpaid, and undervalued. The clock will begin to tick on their departure.

Chronic Job Hopping: A Created Problem in the Cleared Workforce

Companies lose talent more easily when the candidate pool is limited. When positions go unfilled or are filled with the wrong candidates, job satisfaction goes down, causing eyes to roam elsewhere. Job-hopping in the cleared industry is a new workforce normal, as companies are left with poaching talent from competitors as their only method of hiring already-cleared talent.

Slower Times Hurt Small Businesses

Larger organizations get the upper hand over smaller defense organizations. Smaller defense organizations are unable to keep cleared talent on staff without alternate billable projects. Larger organizations generally have uncleared programs that staff can work billable hours while awaiting a favorable clearance determination. For those without a clearance, it may be easier to start out at a large defense organization in order to get hired and gain a clearance sponsor. While competing for the same limited talent pool, subcontracting opportunities for small businesses are also affected. Small organizations simply can’t afford a ‘bench’ of talent on hold between opportunities.

It’s easy to complain about the problem, but complaining rarely solves the problem. But perhaps it can help. The squeaky wheel does get the grease, so if people continue to pushback about the issue, perhaps we will see movement in the right direction in 2018. This issue has garnered a lot of talk over the years, but not a lot of process improvement. Due to my youth, I enjoyed a quick turnaround on my clearance about fourteen years ago, but even then, I was told it was not typical.

Today, there’s no guarantee of a quick turnaround. But that doesn’t mean you have no say in how quickly your application moves through the system.

“As a security clearance applicant, there are things you can do to improve the process, specifically making sure your SF86 is as accurate as possible, and you’ve followed all directions carefully,” notes Lindy Kyzer, senior editor of ClearanceJobs.com. “That won’t necessarily make your clearance process headache free, but it can save you from the months of delays caused by a sloppy form.”

Bottom line? Keep pushing back about the processing times, do not let your clearance lag, and take the time to ensure accuracy on your SF86.

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.