Salaries for jobs requiring Top Secret security clearances on the rise, survey says

Washington-area federal employees and contractors with Top Secret security clearances make more money on average than their colleagues in other states, according to a recent nationwide study.

In the state category, the average salary for those working in Washington with a Top Secret security clearance or higher hit $80,380 during this past year, up from $78,813 between 2006 and 2007, reported the latest annual Security Clearance Jobs Salary Survey from ClearanceJob.com, an Internet-based job board for professionals with U.S. government security clearances.

Virginia ranked second with an average salary of $78,043 in the 2008 poll, up from $76,090 in the previous year's survey. In Virginia's Crystal City, an area in Arlington that is home to many government agencies and contractors, salaries jumped to $90,714 from $73,710 in 2007, while Herndon, Va., reported the single highest paid salary at $94,118 in the D.C. metro area.

The national average salary for those in the same category crested at $72,803, up from $68,139 in 2007. The survey ranked the salaries of those holding clearances by state (including the District of Columbia), clearance level, satisfaction, job category and gender. The survey polled 4,200 government employees and contractors between March 20, 2007, and Feb. 20, 2008.

Massachusetts, Colorado and New Jersey -- states reliant on military contracting, engineering jobs and the technology industry -- rounded out the top five highest average salaries by state, the survey showed.

"This is a job seekers' market," said Evan Lesser, director and founder of ClearanceJobs.com. "With the quality of qualified candidates in much shorter supply than the number of open doors, wages for cleared candidates are expected to continue rising."

Nationally, government contractors with security clearances earned an "average of 22 percent higher salaries than their government employee counterparts," the survey also reported. Contractors on average earned $80,688 compared to a cleared government employee, who earned $63,153 between March 2007 and Feb. 2008. As in the 2006-2007 survey, security-cleared women still earned 89 cents to every security-cleared man's dollar.

When comparing jobs that require security clearances to nonclearance jobs, the latest survey found that "among the 20 highest paid job categories, security-cleared candidates earn an average of $19,138, or 22 percent, more than their closest noncleared peers."

Nationally, average salaries by clearance level were expected to continue rising, as stricter requirements reduce the pool of possible candidates at the highest security levels, the survey indicated. But the highest salaries of those with the highest clearances, for instance Energy Department employees working with atomic or nuclear-related materials with "Q" or "L" clearances -- clearances that rank equal to the Defense Department's most sensitive categories -- may have peaked.

"While Department of Energy-cleared candidates still show the highest earnings, reported salary levels remained flat between surveys," the study concluded, noting that Energy employees with security clearances on average earned $100,600, the figure reported in the 2007-2008 survey.

The salaries of employees with the lowest clearances -- Confidential -- grew the fastest over the past year from $56,522 to $64,375. That's good news for those salary earners with confidential clearances looking for a higher paying job.

"With a 12 percent increase since last surveyed, many defense contractors have alluded that they are finding it easier to 'upgrade' Confidential-cleared candidates to higher clearance levels, making them valid potential hires," said the survey.

Of the 2007-2008 respondents, 59 percent said they were satisfied with their salaries. In last year's survey, 60 percent reported being unsatisfied. In the latest study, 67 percent reported job satisfaction "primarily due to their optimism about the growth of the U.S. defense industry and relative confidence in job security," the survey said.

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