Government security clearances are a notoriously complicated process for HR professionals to navigate. There are multiple clearance categories, and the rules governing each often change during presidential transitions.
Individuals with security clearance are perpetually in high demand due to funding limitations and the lag time necessary for gaining clearance. About 70 percent of security clearance holders work directly for the federal government, but the remaining 30 percent are state and local officials, independent contractors, and employees of private-sector firms.
The clearance system seems complicated, but the basics are relatively simple. There are three levels: confidential, secret, and top secret. These levels can be supplemented with special clearances for specific areas of information. Although many different agencies issue clearances, the Department of Defense is responsible for 80 percent of them.
Each level of clearance grants access to the information available at lower levels. The higher the level of access, the more time it takes the Office of Personnel Management to conduct the required background checks, with many people waiting hundreds of days for clearance.
The challenge for HR professionals is that there is a limited pool of candidates with clearance. Recruiters may choose to commit to a candidate waiting on clearance, but it's a long wait and can turn out to be a serious waste of resources if clearance is ultimately denied. This creates a catch-22 in which recruiters must either wade into a very small talent pool or gamble on candidates who may prove to be unemployable.
The Hiring Challenges Run Broad and Deep
To get a sense of how pervasive the clearance problem is for all employers, you only need to look at Michael Flynn. His tenure as national security advisor was short-lived, but even he was waiting on clearances to be granted at the time of his resignation, proving that security clearances are a headache at all employment levels.
Further complicating matters is the fact that security clearances are subject to political whims. For instance, President Barack Obama set a goal of reducing the number of clearances granted by 10 percent between 2013 and 2018 by limiting the amount of information deemed classified and the number of clearances necessary for certain types of access.
How President Donald Trump's administration will affect those reduction goals is hard to predict. The 2017 budget has yet to pass, but it calls for a significant increase in defense spending. However, the continuing resolution passed by Congress as a stopgap restricts spending on background checks and clearances. Until an official budget is approved, the clearance process will face a serious bottleneck.
Even after the budget passes, there will be a lot of catching up to do. As of September 2016, there were 569,000 background investigations waiting to be performed before the clearances could be processed. Considering that the lack of candidates with clearance affects government agencies as consequentially as private sector employers, recruiters should expect competition for qualified candidates to be fierce moving forward.
3 Steps for Expediting the Hiring Process
At this point, it's crucial for HR professionals to make an effort to identify, recruit, and retain talent with the necessary security clearances. With every employer now jockeying for a limited number of candidates, basic recruiting strategies are not going to be adequate. Here are three proven steps for specifically targeting candidates with clearance:
1. Coordinate With Your Facility Security Officer
You can't waste resources recruiting the wrong candidates. Your facility security officer can identify exactly what kind of clearances your projects and initiatives require; then, they can vet a potential candidate's clearances to determine whether they are valid. This way, you only target the candidates who are relevant to your needs, which will help you avoid wasting time and money recruiting potential employees who aren't good fits for your projects.
2. Ensure Clearance Is Reciprocal
Not all clearances are created equal. There are reciprocal agreements across 86 percent of government agencies to accept the same clearance based on the same standards, but that means, in other cases, a clearance that is acceptable for one project or agency will not be acceptable for another.
Rather than assume you are in the clear, determine exactly what kind of clearances your specific contracts require. This will save you the headache of finding the right employee and then realizing their clearance doesn't fit your needs.
3. Evaluate Clearance Viability
If you choose to sponsor a candidate for clearance, you want to be as certain as possible they will be approved. Investigating the person for clear disqualifiers such as debt or drug use can save you time, money, and frustration. Private investigators trained in clearance investigations can help you avoid the risk of hiring someone who is sure to be denied.
Hiring candidates with clearance is not going to get any easier any time soon. However, the recruiters who rise to the top will be the ones who perfect their evaluation processes to avoid unnecessary setbacks and delays.
This article is meant for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.