A recent article critiques the security classification system, suggesting an excess of individuals with security clearances and a rampant problem with over-classification. While not explicitly claiming an adequate supply of cleared individuals for open positions, it implies a disproportionate number of cleared individuals compared to the actual demand. However, upon closer examination, there is a significant shortage of cleared talent, particularly in technical and STEM disciplines, especially at three-letter agencies. The industry sees a decline in new entrants and a cycle of reshuffling, resulting in a top-heavy environment in terms of pay and skill. In my opinion, reducing the number of cleared professionals in the market would be disastrous to new programs, existing programs and any chance of innovation it the GOVCON space.
It is crucial to strike a balance between addressing the cleared talent shortage and streamlining the security classification system. Whatever the solution is here, let us hope that Senators include checking in with government contractors to get the reality of the situation and not just the large integrators, but the small business subs and primes as well.
The Misconception of Excess Cleared Individuals:
“Four million [persons with security clearances] seems crazy”. ..This notion fails to acknowledge the pressing challenge faced by government contractors, who are struggling to find qualified cleared talent and creates an impression of an oversupply of cleared personnel. What this article fails to address is the shortage of cleared professionals directly impacts the efficiency and effectiveness of projects critical to national security and is increasing the overall cost to the tax payer. When demand is high and supply is low, the government and tax payer foot the bill. This not only manifests in higher salaries, but also project delays as critical programs are delayed due to extended vacancies. This is a very common issue in the space and the majority of contractors will tell you it is difficult to keep their programs staffed and to attract new talent.
Understanding the Context: The Role of Contractors
To truly grasp the magnitude of the cleared talent shortage, it is critical to recognize the significant role of government contractors in supporting national security efforts. GOVCON provides billions of dollars of personnel services each year and these contractors often handle sensitive information, contribute to defense projects, and play a vital role in various intelligence community endeavors. The scarcity of cleared talent, particularly at the mid-career level, impedes the timely execution of contracts and hampers innovation. Any reform that looks at reducing the number of cleared personnel must also address the reduced classification of certain systems and software programs. Many defense contractors have pointed out that frequently the government customer requires contractors to hold clearances, but they are often times not actually doing any classified work.
Streamlining the Security Classification System:
While acknowledging the shortage, it is crucial to also address the concerns about the security classification system. The system has, at times, been prone to over-classification, resulting in unnecessary burdens on contractors to provide cleared staff that may not actually be required to hold clearances. By streamlining the classification process, we can ensure that only the essential information is classified, reducing the strain on cleared personnel and enhancing efficiency throughout.
A more discerning and efficient security classification system will free up resources and allow cleared individuals to focus on critical tasks, rather than being weighed down by excessive bureaucracy. This approach strikes a balance between maintaining security protocols and addressing the shortage of cleared talent.
Investing in Recruitment and Development:
Government agencies and contractors need to collaborate on initiatives to attract, train, and retain new talent into the space. This includes partnering with educational institutions, offering competitive compensation packages, and providing ongoing professional development opportunities. Additionally we have see a huge push to hybrid work environments which could be further implemented if we address the issue of over-classification.
While the linked article may not explicitly claim that there are enough cleared individuals to fill open positions, it perpetuates the misconception of an oversupply. Addressing leaking classified materials requires alternative solutions such as harsher penalties for leaks or tighter controls, instead of clamping down on the number of security clearances. Government contractors have been grappling with supply issues, slow clearance adjudications, and post-pandemic retention problems. Introducing additional bureaucracy around the clearance process would only further delay vetting. The last thing we need is additional bureaucracy around the clearance process further reducing supply and making entrance into the space that much more difficult.
Written by Mount Indie assisted by ChatGPT