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Security Clearance Requirements Spark IT Talent War


Security Clearance Requirements Spark IT Talent War WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A., -- By Gail Repsher Emery, Washington Technology. Information technology contractors say it is becoming increasingly difficult to fill job openings that require high-level government security clearances, despite a flood of new applicants.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and at the Pentagon, technology contractors doing sensitive work for the U.S. government also have seen greater interest from job seekers, executives and recruiters said. Intelligence agencies have seen a surge in job applications as Americans seek to join the war against terrorism.

This interest, coupled with the dot-com fallout that softened the market for technology professionals, has been good news for government contractors, some of whom have hundreds of job openings. But IT executives now confront a new dilemma: how to find enough people with the credentials to work on high-priority jobs, such as intelligence agency IT contracts.

Hot areas are information security and investigative services, said Don Fitzpatrick, president and chief executive officer of High Performance Technologies Inc. in Arlington, Va. The IT consulting firm’s clients include the Air Force Systems Center in Dayton, Ohio, and the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M.

Northrop Grumman Information Technology has about 800 job openings. Many are filled within 45 days, but others remain open much longer, said Jeff Shuman, vice president of human resources and administration for the Herndon, Va., unit of Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Corp. The IT unit’s customers include the Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department and the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Some of the individuals on the market don't have the security clearances or the technical skills that we need,” Shuman said. “There's still a talent war.”

In response to the demand for highly skilled IT professionals who can take on top-secret jobs, Paul-Tittle Search Group in McLean, Va., has expanded its recruiting of critical infrastructure protection personnel — people who can work on the cyber and physical protection of national assets, including telecommunications, electric power systems, emergency services and continuity of government services.

Over the past two or three years, 33 percent of the firm’s business has been with the federal intelligence sector. In the next three months, that figure will rise to 60 percent, said Dave Tittle, president.

Two of the firm’s biggest clients are the National Imagery and Mapping Agency and other major defense/intelligence agencies, Tittle said. It’s unusual for the two agencies to use an outside search firm, but today it’s necessary to find the right people, who might not be in the job market, he said. Paul-Tittle’s other clients include private-sector firms doing work for the government.

Often, candidates are willing to accept huge pay cuts — $50,000 in one case — to use their skills in service to the nation, said Bruce Phinney, vice president and director of the firm’s federal search practice. People who hold security clearances — frequently top-secret clearance with special access to a particular type of information — are so important, Phinney said, that clients will be flexible on academic and technical qualifications if a candidate has the right clearances.

The need for employees with security clearances has led companies such as McDonald Bradley Inc. of McLean, Va., to be more creative in its recruiting, said Gayle Levin, employment manager. Clients of the IT services firm include the Justice Department, the Army and the National Reconnaissance Office.

McDonald Bradley recently launched a one-month effort to recruit employees holding security clearances, offering $3,000 bonuses to employees whose referrals are hired. The firm’s usual referral bonus is $1,000, Levin said.

In addition to specific technical skills and security clearances, experience is also critical, recruiters and executives said.

“We emphasize not just skill, but experience and character, given the mission-critical nature of our work,” said David Langstaff, president and chief executive officer of Veridian Corp. of Arlington, Va.

Veridian’s work includes cybersecurity, datamining and nuclear, biological and chemical sciences. The company needs a subset of people on the job market, Langstaff said, those who have technical skills, who can reinforce relationships with customers and who can get clearances.

“It’s a relatively small pool,” said Langstaff, who has about 200 job openings. Because that pool of talent is fairly shallow, some government IT contractors will consider bringing on employees who can be trained while they pursue security clearances.

Levin, for example, looks even more closely at candidates’ backgrounds these days to determine if new recruits have an aptitude for a new skill and an interest in training and the pursuit of a clearance. McDonald Bradley will hire non-cleared personnel and provide training while candidates go through the six- to 18-month clearance process, she said.

So, too, will Northrop Grumman IT, Shuman said.

“It does take an investment,” he said. “[The trainees] do real work and add value to the company. We use it as opportunity to train so they are well-equipped to take on new roles.”

By Gail Repsher Emery, Washington Technology.

Reported by Washington Technology,