When you obtain a security clearance, your security clearance should transfer between agencies. The idea is to save the government money, and save the security clearance holder time. But all too often, government contractors, in particular, are left in limbo, with agencies failing to adhere to security clearance reciprocity guidelines. The costs are staggering. In the Intelligence Community alone, failure to grant reciprocity for security clearances costs 1,000 contractor-labor years and a value of $2 billion in the IC alone. Across the government as a whole, the figures could reach 90,000 lost contractor labor years at a cost of more than $8 billion.

This policy failure has both real mission and monetary impact. That’s the key takeaway from a recently released white paper by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) Security Policy Reform Council, Security Clearance Reciprocity: Costs and Opportunities.

ClearanceJobs recently sat down with three members of the Security Policy Reform Council to discuss the white paper’s findings, and the history of security clearance reciprocity in government.

“This is a historic problem,” said Charlie Allen, Principal, the Chertoff Group and Chair of the INSA Security Policy Reform Council. “I couldn’t get reciprocity within the government much less if you were trying to move people from one contract to another, even those who were within scope, who were contractors.”

The Security Policy Reform Council was quick to emphasize the government largely assumes the reciprocity issue is not a problem – because the clearances eventually get issued.

“The reason that it [security clearance reciprocity] doesn’t get the same amount of attention is that some government leaders think that reciprocity has been solved because eventually contractors do get crossed over, or their clearance does get transferred to another agency,” explains Mary Edington, Director of Federal Security at KPMG.

But what’s lost are the weeks and months of delay and lost labor hours, as contractors sit idle waiting for clearances to be issued. “One of the things that we’re pointing out in this paper – and we have in others – is the timeframe that is so bothersome. What is taking days, weeks and months for reciprocity to occur.”

The white paper estimates that roughly 10% of the cleared contractor labor force is idle at any time because they’re waiting for a clearance to be granted, updated or transferred.

“If I’m a program manager in a big, private sector defense or intelligence firm and I have these invaluable people with a clearance, these women and these men who have great skills, I can’t just let them go,” said Allen. “I have to put them on overhead. And eventually that is written into the contract. If you have a one huge $400 million contract and you have to hold these people because you can’t immediately put them on the job, that adds up. And it is something that it should be solvable.”

The impact of security clearance reciprocity extends beyond cleared companies. In a market where it is difficult to attract professionals to cleared careers, reciprocity makes job transfers complicated and can encourage a professional’s jump into the private sector. In a recent ClearanceJobs survey, reciprocity was cited most frequently as the aspect of security clearance reform most likely to affect their career advancement. 42% of cleared candidates indicated reciprocity as the element of reform most likely to affect their career advancement, followed by the closely related security clearance portability at 40%. Continuous evaluation/eliminating Periodic Reinvestigations was far behind, with 20% of respondents saying it would positively impact their career.

The report concludes with 14 policy recommendations, including requesting policy clarification to ensure personnel with eligibility are accepted without delay, increasing the visibility of those enrolled in continuous evaluation, and ensuring ODNI provides oversight.

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Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at ClearanceJobs.com. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email lindy.kyzer@clearancejobs.com. Interested in writing for ClearanceJobs.com? Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer