[ISN] More Jobs Than Security Clearances

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Sun May 18 2003 - 23:35:57 PDT

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    By Amy Joyce
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, May 19, 2003
    As the technology downturn accelerated in October 2000, WamNet 
    Government Services Inc. in Herndon received some great news: It won a 
    seven-year, $7 billion subcontract from Electronic Data Systems Corp. 
    to help design, build and operate the Navy and Marine Corps intranet. 
    The only problem was that the 20-person company would have to hire 
    more than 700 new employees, all with security clearances. 
    That job is proving to be as much of a challenge as creating a secure 
    intranet for the military. 
    "It's a daunting task for a small firm," said Michael J. Barbee, 
    WamNet's president, who will be constantly searching for more 
    qualified employees until the seven-year contract is complete. 
    With the demands created by the federal effort to improve homeland 
    security, the worldwide war on terrorism, and the need to lock down 
    even the most ordinary government offices, more employers than ever 
    are looking for recruits who already have federal clearances. But just 
    as during the dot-com recruiting boom of the late 1990s, government, 
    technical and defense firms now are aggressively seeking and competing 
    against each other for qualified candidates. "There's a huge shortage, 
    and there's a backlog of people waiting to get their clearances," said 
    Palmer Suk, president of Snelling Personnel Services, a recruiting 
    firm in Vienna. "I'd say we have a need every moment for those types 
    of people. If I have the top security- cleared people, it would be a 
    matter of a handful of phone calls before you have an interview set up 
    for them. Demand is so much higher than supply."
    But there's a Catch-22 quality to the hot job market. To get hired, 
    you have to have clearance. To get clearance, you have to be hired. 
    The conundrum is as tricky for employers as employees. Here's how it 
    An applicant for a federal security clearance, whether confidential, 
    secret, top secret or sensitive, must already be employed at a 
    government agency or contractor.
    The employer files paperwork that states the background check will be 
    performed, and then sends it on to be processed and adjudicated. The 
    procedure can take several months to a year, depending on the level of 
    clearance and the length of the backlog. Currently, there are 237,816 
    security clearance applications pending at the Defense Security 
    Service, the agency that handles clearances. 
    Some employees at WamNet are hired as clearable, but do not yet have 
    clearance. Those employees work on assignments that do not need 
    security clearances, until their paperwork goes through. 
    The number of clearances has gone up substantially since Sept. 11, 
    2001. Many clearances are held by the military. But there were 107,513 
    requests for clearances from industry from October 2000 through 
    September 2001. That increased by about 40,000 the next year. The 
    number of requests from October 2002 to April 2003 was 86,727.
    The attempt to find cleared workers for companies so desperate for 
    them is "a shell game," Suk said. Even if a company successfully hires 
    an employee with the proper clearances, it's likely that person left 
    another company that will have to fill a clearance-required job.
    So companies are getting creative. Some, like Northrop Grumman Corp., 
    are starting a practice of acquiring smaller companies that are filled 
    with cleared employees.
    "When they buy that company, they buy that capability," said Bruce 
    Phinney, a vice president who runs the critical infrastructure 
    practice with search firm Paul-Tittle Search Group in McLean. 
    Companies are hiring search firms to seek out the right employees, and 
    offering bonuses to those employees who refer a friend with the right 
    clearance. Other companies hire employees with minimal clearance, with 
    the hopes of getting them clearance at the higher level that the 
    employer really needs. 
    Much like the companies that tried to make up for lost business when 
    the tech boom went bust, search firms have begun to focus extensively 
    on government contracts and clearances. Paul-Tittle has been in 
    business since 1974, with a major focus on the commercial sector. With 
    jobless rates reaching 6 percent, there are plenty of clients. But, 
    Phinney added, the "tremendous backlog" for security clearances is 
    what is keeping employers from good employees.
    "Corporations are clamoring to get people of this ilk. It's not that 
    they're not out there, it's just cumbersome," Phinney said.
    WamNet, founded in 1994 as a wholly owned subsidiary of WamNet Inc. in 
    Eagan, Minn., was formed to handle networks for federal agencies. 
    WamNet's job now is to network the infrastructure for about 310,000 
    computers on 300 Navy and Marine bases. 
    WamNet doubled in size last year. The company needs to have about 420 
    people in place for the contract at the end of this year, and it is 
    about halfway there. But the hiring is done in small numbers: January 
    brought 35 new employees, 50 came on board in February, 79 arrived in 
    March, 72 in April, and 22 thus far in May. 
    Barbee said the company was and still is on a constant search for 
    Cisco-certified network engineers. Which, said Barbee, is a "pretty 
    small community. And put security clearance on top of that, it's even 
    Ten percent of WamNet's new hires are military, who already have 
    clearances. The company is recruiting as much as possible in and 
    around military organizations, job fairs and in military publications. 
    But once the wars in Afghanistan and then Iraq started, those who were 
    set to retire and perhaps think about a job at a place like WamNet 
    were pulled back into the service. 
    John Heller, program manager in charge of the ramp-up, decided at the 
    beginning of the year that WamNet needed to hire professional 
    recruiters. The company started with three this year, and now has 
    eight. Heller himself was hired to work on the new hiring. Every day, 
    Heller checks in with the recruiters for a count of hires, potential 
    hires and new résumés. 
    The biggest source of new employees comes through Internet job sites 
    such as Monster.com and HotJobs. Those and other job sites are 
    relatively simple to search for the right employees, because résumés 
    that mention security clearances are easy for a recruiter to find. 
    The other huge source of employees is through personal references. 
    When one person is hired, he or she usually has a friend or two who 
    also are cleared and may be interested in a new contract. To encourage 
    those personal referrals, employees can earn $2,000 to $3,000 for each 
    referral that is hired at WamNet. "That gets a buzz in the company 
    because that's real money," said Barbee. 
    And because of the need to attract and retain good employees, the firm 
    is willing to change itself. Barbee said once candidates started to 
    turn down offers, company officials began to ask why. They realized 
    they were losing candidates because they did not offer to match 
    employees' 401(k) retirement plan contributions. "I thought we were 
    too small for that," he said. 
    Instead, the company looked at its benefits, and decided some needed 
    to be enhanced. 
    Heller said the company gets 20 to 100 résumés for any position. But 
    once candidates are screened, there are usually just one or two who 
    end up being "very qualified." 
    On what was a typical day in early spring, Heller sat in on a 
    conference call with WamNet recruiters in Minnesota. When a new base 
    that needs to be hooked up to the intranet comes online, new jobs open 
    up. This day, the recruiters chatted about the Norfolk Network 
    Operations Center, and how many jobs were open, how many offers went 
    out, and how many new résumés had come to their attention. 
    The company had 180 positions open that particular day, 18 at the 
    operations center. The best news from the meeting was that eight 
    offers were out to potential hires for the center. 
    "This is a much bigger task than anyone anticipated," Barbee said. 
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