Cleared Salaries, Budget Cuts and Reality

Posted by Patra Frame

Scene from a recruiting analytics presentation: The defense contracting client had several cleared vacancies but could not fill them. Data analysis showed that the firm’s salary was $30,000 lower than what people who met the requirements were making. The Program Manager rejected any higher compensation and said “cut the years required from 10-12 down to 2-4”. The company filled all its cleared openings within a few weeks.

Why would an experienced PM do this? How could he expect to do the job with so much less experience on the team? Simple answer – he wanted to keep the contract.

The impact of sequestration and budget cuts has been especially noticeable in pay cuts in defense and intel contracting in the past year plus. Total contract revenue is down in extensions, renewals, and new contracts. Current employees are being asked to take pay cuts of 20-45%. New hires are often offered salaries that are much lower than they were a few years ago. This is widespread among career fields and contractors.

We forget how much expansion in jobs and pay there has been in the last decade. We are not anywhere near the bubble’s bust, but the impact feels similar to many cleared job seekers.

What Does that Mean to You

1. Talk with recruiters, hiring managers in your network, and people you are connected to in your field. Ask each about market conditions and current salary offers in your field. Learn all you can so you understand your current market value and whether it is different than you think.

2. Look at salary survey data with a cautious eye. Even the best data is likely to be 6-12 months old. Much of that available for free online is lots older. It may not show the current pay rates. One recent salary survey of cleared jobholders showed pay as flat in 2013 over 2012. Since it included many people who were on existing contracts that had not been up for renewal or extension, it was difficult to tell how much specific positions were now paying.

3. Look at your skills carefully. Have you been keeping up with changes in your field and the market? All of us are responsible for our own careers and that means you have to invest in yourself to upgrade your skills. If you have not, get going! Read What You Can Do About the Winter of the Cleared Job Market.

If you have the ‘hot’ skills and have kept learning – does your resume clearly demonstrate those facts?

Recruiters and hiring managers search for people using specific search terms – 1-3 technology or skill terms and maybe a title or relevant agency. Your resume needs to match those keywords to be found. Check out job listings and company information to customize your resume.

4. These times are really tough for many defense and intel contractors. Reach out and help others. Grow your network. Refer people you know for jobs whenever you can. Both agency and corporate recruiters appreciate great leads and remember you for future potential. Keep your whining offline too – don’t mess up your reputation.

5. Watch your finances. If your contract is coming up for renewal or being rebid, take a good look at cutting your costs and increasing your emergency savings now.

6. If you are out of a job, chop your costs immediately. And think about what skills you have that are transferable outside defense and intel contracting. Don’t necessarily ‘pull the plug’ – but do your research and consider a back-up plan.

Patra Frame is ClearedJobs.Net’s HR Specialist. She is an experienced human resources executive and founder of Strategies for Human Resources. Patra is an Air Force veteran and charter member of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 21, 2014 9:05 am

15 thoughts on “Cleared Salaries, Budget Cuts and Reality”

  1. A perhaps rude question. . .

    Has the Civil Service taken a pay cut ? Has Congress ?? When a PM delivers people who simply cannot do the job, or to the level required. . . they lose the contract, or worse, do something stupid.

    You get what you pay for. Ask CGI Federal, they went low-budget on Recall how well THAT worked out for CGI. . .

    1. I wanted to add that some of us were willing to take a pay cut if it meant contract companies would actually INVEST in their people. Typically, we aren’t ALLOWED to take any training that the government personnel can access freely. The Government EXPECTS to be able to hire contractors at the same LEVEL as their govvy personnel, but then won’t DO anything to keep them trained. Intelligence positions require certain training to which only the STUPID GOVERNMENT offers.. and then you have to be a GOVT employee to take them.. This is a big problem.

      1. Yep, that about sums it up rather nicely…. and I am a contractor turned fed (in ’09).
        There are exceptions though in some Intel training (at least for us) where the contractors do get to go.
        But it ain’t many….

        The investing component of your post – dead on!!!! In the 90s and early 2000s, most companies did invest in training. Then it morphed into “we’ll pay for the training if you stay for 6 – 12 months.”

        Then it seems to have even gone on to us having to pay for more of our own training (if you want some additional, diverse and enhanced training) – and many seem to further cut pay. That method cannot go on for too long without becoming more debilitating to the employee/contractor pool.

        On those job postings, the sad part is that the government is required to post jobs even if they already have someone in mind internally.
        On the contractor side, you could be very accurate in those companies attempting to boost their image…. which is also sad and harmful to all applicants – because they are wasting their time trying to get those positions.

        1. The job posts I refer too are nothing but public companies… I have no qualms calling them out by name, but the list is long.
          I’m familiar with the Govt posting jobs as available, when they’re really not. I have watched it happen personally and the post/application process is one big FARCE.

          There is (and will always be) an extreme amount of turnover in my now former job’s section. Only Govt persons get the training necessary to keep up the job while being critical to contractors. Honestly, I no longer have any real desire to be a “federal employee” in this field (or may be just the agency.) I’ve seen their tumultuous attitudes, in an attempt to perpetuate the “I’m superior, better, and smarter than you.” It’s like being a mouse in an overpopulated forrest of eagles. lol

          1. Yep, the attitude thing, that is a kicker and quite a few of them (govvies) are not as superior as they tend to believe they are.
            I hear you…

  2. Yes, budget cuts have increased compensation pressure all the way down the line. However, contractors are lining up around the block to hire me for what I made 15 years ago, and I wont do it. I believe contractors are taking advantage of employees beyond the pressure of government budget cuts.

    Of course compensation reflects market supply and demand, but there is a difference between a professional with 20 years of experience, advanced degrees, and multiple certifications, and someone 2-4 years out of school with nothing.

    Eventually the market will work off the excess, and they will have to bring in guys like you and I to clean up the mess. Happens every time.

    1. One thing that companies COULD do, but don’t, is get rid of a lot of layers of redundant management and support staff.
      I used to work for, well. . . .let’s leave them anonymous, but they make airplanes in Seattle. . . . and reported to THREE separate management chains. And yet, when the wave layoffs came in 2009-2010, it was all production people getting the boot.

      In engineering, we have to keep it lean and mean, if only the Front Offices would do the same. . .

    2. Im someone with about 10 years over all experience in my field who’s willing to sacrifice SOME pay just to be invested in for the future. Funny thing is, i’m not asking for an exuberant amount of money. I was laid off 2 months ago and still can’t even get a CALL back from all these companies who post these jobs. Honestly, I dont think at least 30% of these jobs are REALLY available. I think companies portray as if they have positions, in order to boost their “general public” appearance. Makes them look FAR better than they really are.

  3. We have been fighting this for a couple of years in our area. Personal story: I was employed as a senior test manager in a program office for a cutting-edge aircraft. Our company lost the recompete and I saw my job description as published by the winning company. The educational requirement for my position went from a Masters degree in engineering to a high-school diploma or GED. Needless to say, I didn’t get hired by the new company. The government is now rethinking it’s strategy after two years of issues with “qualified” people.

  4. To anyone reading this blog,
    a) are you getting emails from this site &
    b) if you are, is the sender: [email protected]

    I sent two emails over the past couple of days to confirm they sent it and it is not spam/malware – but, the customer service appears to not be good in responding…


    1. Hey PWA, Thanks yes you are correct that those are valid emails from our blog referencing [email protected], but we do need to update the email address. Thanks and we will have that changed!

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