How many people have access to the government’s most sensitive secrets? The total number of individuals with eligibility to access classified information in 2019 (the last year the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report) was 4.2 million. Within that figure are 1.3 million individuals with a Top Secret security clearance. A CNN report published earlier today argued ‘the number of people with a Top Secret security clearance will shock you.’ We’d argue that it may shock you just how few people are at work today with a Top Secret security clearance.

The nuance of the security clearance process is on display with the figures released by the ODNI and the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA). It’s not just the total number of individuals with a clearance that matters, but also how many of those individuals are actually using their security clearance, along with how those figures compare with other industries.

There may be 1.3 million individuals with a Top Secret clearance, but there are also 11.4 million (or nearly three times more) individuals working in the restaurant industry, 11.4 million working in construction, and 12.6 million in leisure and hospitality.

The restaurant industry is worth $898 billion, and the aerospace and defense industry is worth roughly $551 billion. While the economic impact is more than half, the workforce to support it is significantly less. The numbers show we have more people staffing our local Taco Bells than our local cleared facilities. Based on sheer numbers to economic impact, the cleared workforce should have room to grow.


clearance numbers

Who’s On First

When it comes to who has security clearances, the military is the major driver of security clearances, and makes up the largest (numbers) bucket for all security clearances of any level. A much smaller percentage fall to DoD civilians or contractors.

Eligible and In-Access

We’ve previously broken down how the number of security clearance holders using their eligibility has gone down post-COVID. Regardless of the reason, the market for cleared professionals has significantly outpaced supply throughout the past five years. Several years ago significant delays in security clearance processing times were the cause of issues in fueling a properly sized cleared population. Today, DCSA has busted its backlog and processes security clearances within benchmarks, but due to the smaller in-access talent pool, the number of applicants interested in open cleared positions remains smaller than the supply.


The 1.3 million individuals with Top Secret clearances are supporting a wide variety of missions, from the CIA to the Department of Commerce. Just because you have a Top Secret clearance doesn’t mean you have access to any information out there that’s classified Top Secret. Many categories of information fall into a Special Access Program, and would require a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) clearance eligibility.


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