What’s A Security Clearance Worth?Updated: March 15, 2021
How much is a Secret clearance worth? How much can you earn with a Top Secret security clearance? These are questions many want to know, especially when preparing to retire or separate from military jobs that require such clearances.
If you are currently serving and need to know how much of a pay jump (or pay cut, depending on circumstances) you might get by switching to a civilian job that requires a security clearance, there is good news from a report by ClearanceJobs.com that indicates that after years of “frozen” wages, pay rates and certain opportunities are on the rise.
What Is A Military Security Clearance Worth?
Unfortunately, there is no real way to place a specific dollar value on a Confidential clearance, Secret security clearance, or Top Secret Clearance since jobs, requirements, and credentialing will vary. However, some studies (including the report by ClearanceJobs.com) do find a dollar amount range to be more or less accurate.
ClearanceJobs.com reports that the “average total compensation” for professionals with security clearances approximately is $90,000. It is important to note that the dollar amount listed here is the average of “total” compensation, not necessarily the pay grade or dollar amount you might see in a monthly paycheck.
“Total compensation” may include the value of insurance benefits, employee contributions to retirement packages, and other benefits along with your salary.
Once Top Secret, Always Top Secret?
Some want to know whether they are entitled to “keep” their clearance once it is obtained, even when moving on from a career in uniform to the private sector, civil service, or federal job opportunities outside the civil service arena. The short answer is, no, you don’t get a Top Secret clearance for life.
Part of the reason for this is the way clearances are handled; in addition to being required to recertify or be re-investigated for your clearance years down the road after your initial procedure, your military security clearance cannot “travel” with you to another agency without certain consideration made by your new employers. In order to have your current clearance recognized at another job there must be reciprocity from the gaining agency.
The U.S. Department of State defines this as “the acknowledgement and acceptance of an existing background investigation conducted by an authorized investigative agency.”
Reciprocity is also the acceptance of “a national security eligibility adjudication determined by an authorized adjudicative agency” and/or another agency’s acceptance of “an active national security eligibility determination granted by an executive branch agency.”
The ultimate worth of a security clearance-having one currently and/or being able to obtain a new clearance with few problems-is that it provides access to jobs which may be statistically higher paying than those that do not require such clearances.
More On Security Clearance Reciprocity
As mentioned above, the security clearance you obtain for military duty purposes is technically only good for the agency that granted the clearance unless there is reciprocity issued from a new hiring agency. The U.S. Department of State says a federal agency will “normally” take your security clearance if it is current.
That means the background check or re-investigation must have taken place in the last five years for a Top Secret clearance, and within the last 10 years for a secret clearance.
Normally this also requires there be no break in service of more than two years. Your gaining agency may be required to take certain steps or perform due diligence when hiring in this manner that includes certain “adjudicative procedures” that may or may not resemble those performed during your original clearance.
Recent Trends In Security Clearance Jobs
In the wake of high-profile classified data leaks including the controversies surrounding Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, a 2013 White House review suggested reforms to the security clearance process.
One part of those suggested reforms was a reduction in the number of federally employed people with security clearances. How big was that reduction? According to the ClearanceJobs.com report, as high as thirty percent.
The same report suggests that processing times for security clearances have increased to their highest levels in recent memory. It may take more than a full year to fully complete the background check and clearance review process for Top Secret-level workers. Clearance investigations are said to have piled up into a backlog some sources say is more than 700 thousand cases.
That means those considering a transition into civilian life should expect to wait longer for clearance jobs, encounter higher competition for those jobs, and planning for career transitions will need to start much earlier.
Things To Remember About Jobs That Require Security Clearances
There are many reasons why a job may require a security clearance, and not all of those jobs require handling of classified government information. Clearance may be required just to work in the same room with equipment used to store, process, or display classified information.
The employee does not pay for security clearance procedures-your employer will shoulder the cost of this process. There should be no financial burden for the applicant.
Security clearances are not issued for life. They are subject to review and may be revoked at any time. Those who obtain security clearances should follow the advice of their employers for avoiding life choices and/or situations that may call their clearances into question, and as we have learned in recent years even social media activity may be grounds for reconsidering an active clearance.
In some cases it’s not even whether or not questionable activity actually occurred, but situations that lend even the appearance of impropriety may be problematic.
Top Paying Security Clearance Jobs and Industries
Surveys suggest that the engineering career field (for careers that require security clearances) pays an average total compensation of approximately $100 thousand a year, with information technology (IT) a close second with a total compensation average of just below $100 thousand.
Specific top paying security clearance jobs themselves include Systems Engineer jobs with an average total compensation in the $120 thousand range, with IT software jobs at or near a similar range. Remember, the dollar amounts mentioned here are not limited to gross income, but may include benefits packages, retirement plans, etc.
Other Security Clearance Job Salary Information
The amount of compensation you are offered in a job requiring a security clearance at any level (Confidential, Secret, or Top Secret) will vary depending on where you are at in your career. Surveys and published reports on these figures include a rough estimate of just over $50 thousand per year for entry level workers with security clearances.
By the time you are at or near five years of experience, those numbers go up significantly-as high as $75 thousand in total compensation according to a ClearanceJobs.com infographic. Up to ten years or higher and these compensation packages are in the six figures.
The top paying clearance job industries include (listed in order from most lucrative to least):
- Emergency Management
- Business Security not related to IT
Logistics may be in the “least lucrative” position at the bottom of this list, but some reports note that security clearance workers earn as much as $40 thousand more per year in some locations compared to similar jobs without the security clearance requirement.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News