Security Clearance Backlog Skews Hiring Process

As long predicted, the increased demand for skilled people with security clearances combined with the inability of the government to screen applicants in a timely manner has created a situation where simply possessing a security clearance is more important than having the required skills for the job.

Despite assurances nearly two weeks ago from the Office of Personnel Management that the Defense Security Service was days away from restarting the processing of security clearance applications, the program has not gotten back off the ground.

Meanwhile, as applications continue to pile up, government contractors are concerned that the growing value of already-cleared job applicants will make hiring burdensome. “When you have an event like this occur, it creates a psychological impression that [the] stock [of already-cleared job applicants] is more valuable,” said Richard Piske, vice president and general manager of Kelly FedSecure, which recruits people with varying levels of security clearance. Piske said in some instances, applicants’ belief that their value has spiked makes them “very difficult to negotiate with.”

But at the online employment site Clearance Jobs, where having a security clearance is required even to respond to a help wanted ad, the growing backlog at DSS has coincided with hundreds more advertisements being posted. “There are more jobs than candidates to fill them,” said Evan Lesser, director of Clearance Jobs. Nearly 3,000 job vacancies are currently posted at Lesser’s site. That’s more than twice as many as last month, and Lesser predicts the number will continue to grow.


A DSS spokeswoman on Friday said she did not know when the agency would resume processing clearances, and could not confirm how many more applications have been added to the backlog since May 1, when 3,000 applications stacked up because the agency ran out of funds. OPM took over the task of conducting background checks last February, but DSS still has to cover the cost of processing applications, which can be thousands of dollars each, depending on the level of clearance needed.

This problem has been evident for years now but nothing has been done to fix it.

Update: Added another paragraph to the extract to add clarity. It is bizarre, indeed, that we ran out of money to process clearances halfway through the fiscal year and haven’t managed to get supplemental money. It’s not like they’ve run out of green Post-It Notes and have to use the yellow ones; this is a crucial government function that has simply stopped.



James Joyner, “Bouncing the Security Check,” TCS, 1 June 2004.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    Time to start shopping the resume around.

  2. Aaron Brazell says:

    Actually, they aren’t issuing any clearances right now. I blogged about this a few weeks ago. Apparently, they are so backlogged that they just stopped accepting applications.

  3. DC Loser says:

    Aaron, DSS has stopped work on investigations for contractors. Investigations for government and military people are still being processed.

  4. DC Loser says:

    James, I would suspect there’s more than meets the eye in this story. My guess is that DSS is playing politics by doing this in order to get supplemental funds for what’s left of FY 06 and more money in the outyears. Stopping the contractor investigations gets the most bang for the buck as the companies will immediately run to their congressmen demanding action. If they just stopped the government employee background checks the uproar won’t be anywhere this big.

  5. Roger says:

    The clearance checks are really very simple these days. How hard is it to verify if someone has contributed to the Repub party?

  6. LJD says:

    Or they could track weblogs and see who repeatedly makes asses of themselves (Roger).

  7. Roger says:

    Ouch! You got me again, LJD. Darn it.