What You Can Do About The Winter of the Cleared Job Market

Posted by Doug Munro

Derek Zeller’s “Winter I$ Coming” outlined an increasingly bleak landscape for the cleared professional in today’s federal market. After years of growth and relative prosperity, the cleared job market has begun to contract. In Game of Thrones it was said that “a long summer always meant a long winter to come.” In a similar fashion, the ongoing adjustment in the cleared community is likely to last quite a while.

The push for fiscal austerity has hit hard and its drivers show no signs of waning. Annual federal IT spending is projected to drop from its current level of $112.5 billion to $102.1 billion by 2018.1 Sequestration is a significant culprit, with the Intelligence Community alone chopping $4 billion from its overall spending in 2013.2 Under the Budget Control Act, sequesters are set to occur annually through 2021 absent congressional actions to change them. With budgets being cut and no promise of increased spending in the future, DoD components are procuring services at drastically lower rates than previous years in a variety of areas. The percentage changes from FY 2011 to FY 2012 were already portending stark new realities:3

  1. Construction of buildings: down 32%
  2. Construction of non-building facilities: down 44%
  3. System Engineering services: down 56%
  4. Logistics Support services: down 25%
  5. Research and Development: down 56% in Applied Research and 64% in Engineering/Manufacturing Development

With funding being cut so significantly there is an ongoing drive for agencies to do more with less. That includes not only eliminating some programs and downsizing others, but incorporating cost-saving measures wherever possible: utilizing less expensive resources, stagnating or decreasing employee salaries, and demanding more creative solutions. Federal contracting firms are mirroring those initiatives within their own business models to compete for the decreased procurement dollars.

Impact on Cleared Professionals

Ultimately there are obvious effects for the cleared professional. In addition to there being fewer jobs, hence greater competition and fewer prospects for mobility, there is an obvious impact on salaries. Overall salaries for security-cleared professionals in the DC Metro region were essentially flat from 2011 to 2012, with projected decreases for 2013. Broken out by agency for 2012, salary changes were already presenting:4

  1. CIA: +2%
  2. State Department: +2%
  3. NSA: no change
  4. Department of Energy: -2%
  5. DHS: -5%
  6. Department of Justice: -7%

So what can career-oriented cleared professionals do to deal with the harsh effects of federal winter? There are no easy answers, but there a number of proactive steps to consider.

Become a student of the system and follow the money. Stay current on procurement trends to develop an idea where funding is likely to be strongest. Agencies will not be affected uniformly and there can be an advantage to knowing where budgets will be protected. Know your own program’s details and analyze whether it is liable to be affected now or in the future. Develop a plan for how best to position yourself to work in protected programs.

Develop cross-functional skills. There will be an increasing number of hybrid roles utilized to help keep program costs down, so the ability to contribute in a variety of related areas will be increasingly valuable. As an example, though cyber security remains a hot topic of career discussions there will be Systems Administrators called upon to add those components to their skillset. Developing a strong knowledge of federal guidelines (FISMA, NIST, etc.) and the ability to harden servers and networks, in addition to traditional administration duties, may provide additional job security and opportunities. Take some time to look at job openings being advertised in your skillset to learn what skills are in demand that you may not have developed yet. Then make it a point to develop them.

Develop trending skills. Private cloud services spending in the federal arena is projected to reach $1.7 billion in 2014 and $7.7 billion by 2017. By 2017, spending on Platform as a Service (PaaS) is expected to reach $1.1 billion, Software as a Service (SaaS) $2.4 billion, and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) $5.4 billion.5 Data is growing exponentially, so the need for professionals with expertise in Big Data Analytics, Business Intelligence, Business Performance Measurement (software/systems), Capacity Planning and Management, and Data Architecture should continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

Get certified. It’s a topic of much consternation among seasoned professionals, since certifications certainly do not guarantee competence, but they are an accessible route to improve career prospects. They are increasingly being called out in federal RFP’s as requirements and those holding pertinent certifications tend to make more than their non-certified peers. Top-line certifications will vary depending on work stream, but among those with the highest earning potential are Project Management Professional (PMP), Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD), Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA), Microsoft Certified Application Developer (MCAD), VMware Certified Professional Datacenter Virtualization (VCP-DV), and Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL v3). There are valuable certifications in virtually every field – a little research will guide you to the best in yours.

Consider your clearance. Security clearances are difficult to obtain. Having one enables a professional to do mission-critical work. They no longer, however, guarantee long-term career stability and ever-increasing income. It may be time to consider opportunities in one of the many civilian agencies; many have brighter fiscal outlooks than DoD and Intel Community components and are doing interesting, important work. There’s a risk, of course. The two year window to reactivate an existing clearance can close, making it a challenge to get sponsored for a return to DoD/Intel work. It must be a well-considered decision, but in times like these it makes sense to consider every option.

It may be a long winter, so sharpen your professional sword and defend your kingdom.

Doug Munro is the Director of Technical Recruiting at Optimos, a strategy and enterprise information technology provider. Follow Doug on Twitter @DoDRecruiterDC

1 Ecommerce Times citing a July 2013 Deltek report. 2 Federal Times 11/4/21033. 3 Center for Strategic and International Studies: FY2012 Federal Services Contracting Trends 8/27/2013. 4 ClearanceJobs Compensation Survey 2013. 5 7/24/2013


This entry was posted on Monday, December 09, 2013 7:18 am

4 thoughts on “What You Can Do About The Winter of the Cleared Job Market”

  1. Thank you sir for the feedback, we are agroup of translators who were contracted recently but just lost our posts, what is your advise for our next step?


    1. Thanks for your comment, Esa, and I’m sorry to hear that your posts were eliminated. I admit that I am more in tune with IT than translation, but I have recruited in that space in the past. I believe there will be some lost positions in the DoD space to coincide with the troop deployment drawdowns, but Intel budgets will likely be affected less.

      I don’t know that it still holds true, but for years the FBI ran short of translators, particularly those with expertise in Arabic (the Levantine dialect above all). Direct employment there might be an avenue. Beyond that (and this holds true for anyone in the cleared space these days), I would suggest tracking procurement opportunities.

      You can for to (FedBizOpps) and set up a user profile. It’s free, easy to do, and will enable you to search a wide variety of pending procurements. No matter the stage of procurement – RFI, Sources Sought, RFP – there will be indications of interested parties (companies), which can give you clues on companies you might want to contact. In some cases they need key personnel for their bids, but even if not you will at least be able to connect with companies who are operating in the space.

  2. There is soooo much truth to the above. I have been responsible for managing government contracts for the last three years and the rates and margins have been squeezed to the point of ridiculous. I have seen position descriptions where the government wants senior engineers with 5+ years experience a TS/SCI with FS poly, PMP, ITIL, CISSP for $75,000. Their requirements are becoming completely “UN”realistic.

  3. Its not winter yet, but its coming. Learn how to survive on part time minimum wage that’s our future sadly.

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