As the internet floods with new traffic around classified information, some individuals are rounding up the age-old question – are there too many people with security clearances? The most recently released figure for security clearance numbers includes 4.1 million individuals with a security clearance, including 1.3 million individuals cleared at the Top Secret level.
Looking at the numbers one looks at the 1.3 million individuals with a Top Secret clearance and assume that’s too many people with access to the government’s most sensitive secrets. But the reality is that when it comes to the security clearance marketplace, there remains a lack of qualified candidates to fill current openings. Some of that may be related to retention and the great resignation. It’s worth noting that when we look at the security clearance figures, we’re considering individuals who are both eligible and in access. Those ‘in access’ are currently using their clearance. Those eligible have a clearance – but aren’t necessarily using it.
Security Clearance Levels of Access
Security clearances are issued at the Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret level. In addition to security clearances, there are positions of public trust, which are not actually security clearances, but positions which require access to sensitive information. Another common source of confusion is between security clearances and suitability determinations. Beyond the security clearance process, there are suitability determinations which are specific to each of the government agencies.
Information is Overclassified; People Usually Aren’t
There are two hot topics at play today – the classification (or overclassification) of information, and the classification of individuals. While any form over overclassification is a bad thing, if you move the needle of overclassification to the side of reducing the number of individuals with a clearance, you’re likely missing the mark – and ignoring the market realities. Until the issues of overclassification are solved, the government continues to need more individuals with security clearance eligibility and that demand outpaces supply.
Solve the problem of overclassification – reduce the number of documents that are classified, and how information is classified, and you may be able to make the push to reduce the number of individuals with a security clearance. But until that is the case, the market needs to make the case, and the push today continues to be toward more individuals with clearance eligibility in order to fill positions today that remain unstaffed due to shortages.