For firms, a cleared applicant is hard to find


April 28, 2006|By MELISSA HARRIS

A young woman carrying a stack of resumes in a leather case walked up to a recruiter at Wednesday's job fair at Fort Meade and asked: "Before I even say anything, do you require a security clearance?"

That question started -- and then quashed -- many applicants' efforts to land a job during the semiannual fair, which attracted more than 1,500 people and 84 companies to the Army base in Anne Arundel County. A recent private-sector survey found that people with security clearances are among the most sought-out and well-paid workers in the Baltimore-Washington region.

"So far, I've only met one person who had the security clearance that I needed, and she only wants to work part-time," said Russ Dawson, a senior recruiter for the McLean, Va.-based Keane Federal Systems Inc., which has a large office in Columbia.

People who work for contractors like Keane need clearances because they work with the same sensitive information that federal workers do. And contractors prefer that applicants show up at their doors with them. Only the government can clear a worker or contractor, and depending on the level of clearance and type of polygraph needed, the process can take as long as 1 1/2 years and cost thousands of dollars. Contractors don't want to wait -- and don't want to pay for the clearances.

Avoiding all that hassle, however, translates into more money for cleared workers. A February 2006 survey by, a job-posting Web site specializing in these hard-to-fill positions, found that cleared workers earn about 25 percent more than noncleared colleagues with similar skills. The median annual salary of a cleared worker in Maryland is $87,500, according to the company's survey of 750 cleared job seekers who registered on the site between November 2005 and January 2006.

Ajay Dhawan, an analyst who lives at Fort Meade, is in the process of obtaining a security clearance.

"That's the whole problem; that's what's killing me," Dhawan said. "I could get paid so much more."

The February survey found that workers with two specific clearances (Q and L) at the Department of Energy are paid the most. These workers tend to have highly specialized research skills, there are fewer of them, and they tend not to leave the government because Uncle Sam pays them more than contractors would while offering superior job security, according to the survey.

Another determining factor is the type of polygraph the cleared worker has passed. Missie Knight, recruiting manager for Lanham-based QSS Group Inc., said that finding someone who has passed a lifestyle polygraph, which asks questions about finances and drug use, among other sensitive subjects, is rare.

"So many people are declined at the secret level because they're repeatedly late on payments," Knight said.

Pay and 401(k)

The fight over pay parity is back. On Wednesday, a House subcommittee approved a 2.7 percent pay raise for the military next year and that prompted calls for a similar increase for civilians. Some observers had hoped that this annual fight in Congress wouldn't be necessary this year after President Bush proposed an equal raise, 2.2 percent, for military and civilian workers in next year's budget. No such luck.

Rep. Jon C. Porter, chairman of the House's government reform subcommittee, said yesterday that he will introduce a bill that will require managers of federal workers' 401(k)-style retirement plans to conduct a customer-satisfaction survey of participants and routinely compile data on best practices in the industry.

Porter said that the details of the bill are being worked out, but that they will be based upon a January 2005 Government Accountability Office report that recommended such actions.

The announcement came at the end of a lengthy and frequently hostile hearing over a congressional proposal to add a real estate investment trust (REIT) option to the plan. Several members of Congress, including Porter, accused the plan's executive director, Gary A. Amelio, of dragging his feet on hiring an independent consultant to evaluate whether adding such an option is wise.

The new pay-for-performance system at the Department of Defense starts Monday and that means that many of the 11,000 civilian workers in the first group will get an automatic, overnight raise of $962 on average, according to

To get that raise, which Department of Defense officials are calling a "buy-in," the worker's performance must "be acceptable," and the worker must be in step 9 or lower of a grade. The department has a "conversion calculator" on its Web site (www.cpms. and a tutorial called "National Security Personnel System 101" that tells workers their new salaries and explains how the system works.

The writer can be reached at or 410-715-2885. See back issues at

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