ClearanceJobs Compensation Survey Results for 2012

Earnings are up for security-cleared professionals, but so are career concerns

A comprehensive earnings survey of security-cleared professionals, with 11,436 respondents from November 2011 to January 2012 – provided by

Download a printable PDF of the ClearanceJobs Compensation Survey.

Key Findings

Earnings(1) for professionals with an active federal security clearance increased over two percent since the 2011 ClearanceJobs Compensation Report, with an average total compensation of $90,865. The average base pay for cleared workers is $76,152, with additional compensation in the form of overtime, danger pay and bonuses contributing another 19 percent, or $14,713.

Information security professionals dubbed 2011 the “Year of the Hack.” But even in the face of congressional budget cuts, cybersecurity spending continued to rise across both the government and private sector. Government agencies, including the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security, increased cybersecurity spending in Fiscal Year 2013 budget requests. As demand for certified cybersecurity talent increases, the earnings of security-cleared information technology professionals, engineers, and program managers, in particular, is rising.

Survey respondents trend young, with the highest percentage of respondents between the ages of 25-34 and are highly educated, citing ten or more years of experience.

Teleworking in a classified environment remains a challenge for government agencies and their contractors. However, the 30 percent of respondents in the survey who were able to telework ranked it as their most important benefit – listing it above stock options, 401ks or even health insurance.

Despite high salaries and moderate job satisfaction, career concerns are up among respondents. With the Department of Defense aiming to cut $487 billion in spending over the decade at the request of the White House, and all federal agencies tightening their fiscal belts, loss of contract funding, position elimination and increased workload rank high among concerns of survey respondents.

While security-cleared base pay rose in 2011, compensation over base pay (including bonuses, stock options, overtime and danger pay) decreased. In 2010 respondents reported an average of $16,177 in compensation above base pay; in 2011 the number was $14,713. A variety of factors contributed to the decrease, including fewer bonuses paid due to market uncertainty, and withdrawal of U.S. military troops from Iraq who received danger pay and other incentives.

(1) Earnings or total compensation is inclusive of salaries, bonuses, danger pay, overtime and other forms of monetary compensation.

A New Wave of Cleared Talent

As service members return home from Iraq and Afghanistan and active duty forces shrink, young security-cleared professionals are entering the workforce, just as baby boomers are retiring.

Growing demand for defense industry cybersecurity professionals of any age or career level means an increase in associated certifications. Forty percent of respondents possessed one or more certifications, including Security +, CISSP, and CCNA – all highly coveted by federal agencies and contracting companies.

Survey respondents are flexible, with 73 percent citing a willingness to relocate. Even government employees – a group more widely considered to be “entrenched” in their jobs and communities – 78 percent cited a willingness to relocate.

More than half of respondents have college degrees, including 22 percent who have obtained a master’s degree. As in other job sectors, there is a strong correlation between education level and compensation. A college degree results in an additional $17,000 above base pay over those security-cleared professionals with “some college”, and a graduate degree an additional $15,000 – $33,000 on top of that.

Survey respondents continue to be primarily male, with men outnumbering women four to one. Surveyed men reported average compensation of $93,983 whereas women reported average compensation of $79,098. However, when statistically controlling for years of experience, education levels, and job type there is no significant earnings differential between women and men.

Will Work from Anywhere

It may be surprising to note that 64 percent of respondents listed telework as a workplace benefit. The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 requires federal agencies to create telework opportunities for employees who are eligible. Federal agencies have ramped up implementation of the Act over the past year, which is demonstrated in the number of respondents eligible to telework.

Perhaps even more interesting than the number of respondents who are eligible to telework is how important it is to them. Among those able to telework, more rank it as their most important benefit than stock options, pensions, or even health insurance.

While half of security-cleared respondents work 40 hours per week, nearly 30 percent work 40-50 hours per week and 13 percent work more than 60 hours per week.

The Cleared Workplace

  • The majority of respondents are ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ satisfied with their compensation
  • Respondents working overseas are more satisfied with their jobs than stateside counterparts
  • Government contractors in the survey were more satisfied with their jobs than government employees

Over half (58 percent) of respondents were ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ satisfied with their level of compensation, relatively the same figure as from the previous security clearance compensation survey when cleared workers’ earnings took a slight dip. One in four respondents were dissatisfied with their compensation. Satisfaction is naturally highly related to salary levels, but even some top earners were dissatisfied with their compensation. Twelve percent of the highest earners – those with an average base pay of $136,076 – were dissatisfied with their earnings.

When it comes to overall job satisfaction, security-cleared respondents are largely happy in their work, with 22 percent very satisfied and 38 percent somewhat satisfied. Job satisfaction is somewhat related to base pay but perhaps not as much as one might think. Dissatisfaction is just eight percentage points higher, when comparing the lowest income security-cleared professionals (29 percent) with the highest cleared earners (21 percent).

A figure that may seem surprising is the job satisfaction of those working overseas, particularly in the Middle East. Sixty-eight percent of those working in Afghanistan and 73 percent of those working in Iraq were satisfied with their jobs.

Government contractors were slightly more likely to be satisfied with their jobs than their government employee counterparts (62 versus 58 percent). Older workers were also more likely to be satisfied than younger workers, and despite growing cuts in large programs, cleared aerospace engineers were among the most satisfied workers, but were bested by telecom engineers and industrial security professionals.

Ready to Move

  • Highest earners say they are most likely to change jobs in the coming year
  • One-in-five of all respondents say they’re likely to change jobs in the coming year

Twelve percent of respondents considered themselves ‘very likely’ to change jobs in the next year. Another 10 percent said they were ‘likely’ to change jobs in the next year. Almost half (43 percent) said they were ‘not at all likely’ to change jobs. Perhaps surprising, the highest earners listed themselves as the most likely to change jobs.

Of respondents who received a pay increase, 25 percent cited a change in position – either to a new company (17 percent) or within the same company (8 percent). Personal performance was cited by 41 percent.

Career Concerns Up

High levels of career concern were expressed by respondents. ‘Loss of contract funding’ topped the concerns at 43 percent, and ‘increased workload due to staff cuts’ was second at 40 percent. Position elimination and lower salary/billing rates tied for third at 38 percent. These numbers are higher than 2010’s reported figures with ‘increased workload due to staff cuts’ seeing the largest increase.

Earners by Job Category

  • IT professionals are ‘power-earners’ among cleared professionals in the survey, when compared to all other non-IT candidates combined
  • Engineering and IT program managers are the highest paid occupations in the survey

Base pay and total compensation vary greatly based on occupation. Nearly a third of respondents work in IT, more than double the 14 percent who fall under the “Intelligence” occupational category. IT professionals as an occupational category are the biggest earners and saw large pay increases by a significant margin when compared to non-IT professionals. Removing IT professionals from the pool of respondents decreases the percentage change in total compensation for security-cleared professionals to just over 1 percent. IT professionals, in contrast, saw a 9 percent increase in base pay, earning approximately $13,000 more than their non-IT counterparts.

Other occupational categories reported large increases in total compensation as well. Finance professionals reported total compensation increases of just over 10 percent. Additionally, cleared workers in Administrative, Legal, and Graphic Arts professions noted an almost 17 percent increase in total compensation.

Program managers – particularly those in engineering and IT fields – were the highest paid security-cleared professionals in the survey. Program managers for IT earned an average of $121,496 in total compensation and program managers for engineering earned an average of $123,199. These highly compensated positions likely reflect the growth of high-dollar, high-profile IT and engineering projects across the government sector including data center consolidation, cloud migration, and rapid increases in cybersecurity spending. Cleared professionals with experience implementing these critical programs could reap the rewards with higher compensation.

Occupation plays a major role in base pay versus total compensation. Telecom engineering, IT telecom, intelligence, law enforcement and logistics all earned at least 25 percent beyond their base pay in additional compensation.

Contractor, Government Employee or Active-Duty Military

  • Government contractors earned significantly more than government employees, $100,497 versus $85,128
  • Despite federal pay freezes, government employees, as a group, reported a rise in earnings in 2011

The majority of respondents (60 percent) work for a government contractor. One in five are in the military and 11 percent work for the government. Contractors cited earnings increases just one percentage point higher than their counterparts in the federal government, which may seem surprising considering the federal government pay freeze. Government employees who saw pay increases likely experienced within-grade pay increases, periodic increases in a general schedule employee’s base pay, which were not affected by the freeze. While active duty military pay increases are mandated by the National Defense Authorization Act, there was little reported change in both base pay and total compensation by these survey respondents.

The average contractor earnings were significantly higher, at $100,497 versus $85,128 for government employees and $68,315 for military.

For service members, compensation above base pay continues to be a major factor. For all respondents, total compensation is 19 percent higher than base pay. For service members, compensation above base pay ranges from 37 percent for the National Guard to 44 percent for the Army.

A majority (65 percent) of respondents work in support of the Department of Defense and military branches. A very distant second (5 percent) supply the Department of Homeland Security. When it comes to percentage change in base pay, however, those supporting DHS earned a premium over their counterparts, with a nearly 12 percent increase over the past year. Those higher earnings are likely related to the push to hire more cybersecurity professionals within the agency. DHS was approved to hire 1,000 new cybersecurity professionals over three years, and while it was only able to fill several hundred of those positions, largely through insourcing, the salaries needed to continue to fill vacancies will likely trend upward.


Those employed at the CIA also saw a significant change in both base pay and total compensation over last year, with a reported average base salary of $109,768.

Earnings by Geography

  • Overseas cleared workers earn significantly more than their stateside counterparts
  • The District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts and Virginia had the highest earnings

The majority of security-cleared professionals in the survey work in the United States, but over five percent work in Iraq and Afghanistan. Other overseas assignments for security-cleared professionals in the survey include Germany, Kuwait, Japan and South Korea. Those employed outside of the U.S. garner higher earnings, $135,154 versus $85,981 for those working in the U.S.

Not surprisingly, those working in Iraq and Afghanistan earned approximately 70 percent of their overall earnings in the form of compensation above base pay.

Those employed outside the U.S. earned more in both base pay and total compensation and saw higher earnings increases than those in the U.S.

Alabama had the greatest increase in earnings, while New Jersey saw the greatest decrease. Total compensation in New Jersey dropped from just under $100,000 to $88,277. The closing of New Jersey’s Fort Monmouth in September 2011 as a result of BRAC is the likely cause of an 11 percent decrease in earnings reported between the 2011 and 2012 surveys. Responsible for a number of highly-skilled and highly-paid cleared jobs in the fields of engineering, electronics, surveillance, and reconnaissance, the offices and positions formerly at Fort Monmouth were relocated primarily to facilities in Maryland and Ohio.

The Nation’s Capital

  • Virginia and Maryland continue to battle for defense and cyber business
  • Fairfax County boasts the highest compensation at $104,921

Nearly 40 percent of respondents work in the Capital region of District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. Working in the seat of the federal government pays – those in the Capital region earn an average of $97,838, approximately $10,000 to $30,000 more than other regions.

Fairfax County had the most respondents in the DC metro area, and salaries were also the highest in the area. The average total compensation for cleared professionals in Fairfax County was reported as $104,921. That’s over $10,000 more than nearby Arlington County, which has an average total compensation of $93,413.

Virginia and Maryland are both working hard to attract and retain cybersecurity and defense industry business. A new marketing campaign launched by Virginia governor Bob McDonnell touts the over 300 cybersecurity companies based in Virginia, and Forbes recently ranked Virginia the second best state to do business. In the past five years defense contractors including Computer Sciences Corporation, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman have moved their headquarters to Virginia.

BRAC and the standing up of U.S. Cyber Command have brought thousands of new jobs and companies to Maryland in the past several years, as well. An estimated 51 cybersecurity companies have relocated to Maryland, bringing about 5,000 new jobs, according to state representative James Malone.

Clearance Level

  • Most common clearance levels reported were Top Secret/SCI (40% in 2011) followed closely by Secret (34% in 2011)
  • Difference in reported base salaries between Intelligence Agency-issued clearances and Department of Defense Secret clearances is almost $35,000

Once again, an intelligence agency-issued clearance proved to be the most lucrative in terms of earnings. The base pay difference between an intelligence agency clearance and a DoD secret clearance was more than $35,000. Reflecting access to sensitive information and facilities, there is a premium paid to cleared professionals with intelligence agency clearances.

Base salaries and total compensation increased for all clearance types except for DoD secret clearances, which saw flat total compensation from the 2011 to 2012 surveys and only a modest increase in base pay. DoD Top Secret/SCI was the most commonly held clearance held by respondents.

Polygraph Level

  • Full-Scope or Lifestyle Polygraph holders make up only 9% of this year’s respondents

Those surveyed cleared professionals with a lifestyle polygraph enjoyed a particularly high increase in base pay of just under 12 percent. Approximately 23 percent of survey respondents noted having a polygraph. Overall, individuals with a polygraph saw significantly higher increases than those without, with average earnings in the six figures, reflecting an expected increase in wages for a known small talent pool.

A polygraph is used to assist in a person’s screening for trustworthiness, and is a pivotal step in increasing access to sensitive positions and facilities, particularly within the intelligence community. A counterintelligence polygraph is most commonly used, and typically includes questions about espionage or sabotage, contact with a foreign government or disclosure of classified materials. A lifestyle polygraph concerns the person’s personal life and issues, and whether or not he or she would be susceptible to blackmail. A full-scope polygraph is a combination of both polygraphs.


The 2012 Security Clearance Compensation Survey indicates good news for both cleared professionals and defense industry recruiters. Base salaries are on the rise, particularly for in-demand IT professionals and program managers. Those same individuals are also willing to make a move in the next year, particularly if the right opportunity – and a competitive salary – is offered. Organizations looking to attract skilled cleared talent should not have any more difficulty doing so than in previous years. However, they will need to consider flexibility – such as telework options – in conjunction with more traditional incentives such as retirement savings. Employers willing to consider cleared professionals who are ready to relocate will find their selection of candidates increased.

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