Defense agency unsure when clearance processing will resume

As applications remain stalled, the need for already-cleared workers swells.

Despite assurances nearly two weeks ago from the Office of Personnel Management that the Defense Security Service was days away from restarting the processing of security clearance applications, the program has not gotten back off the ground.

Meanwhile, as applications continue to pile up, government contractors are concerned that the growing value of already-cleared job applicants will make hiring burdensome.

"When you have an event like this occur, it creates a psychological impression that [the] stock [of already-cleared job applicants] is more valuable," said Richard Piske, vice president and general manager of Kelly FedSecure, which recruits people with varying levels of security clearance. Piske said in some instances, applicants' belief that their value has spiked makes them "very difficult to negotiate with."

But at the online employment site Clearance Jobs , where having a security clearance is required even to respond to a help wanted ad, the growing backlog at DSS has coincided with hundreds more advertisements being posted.

"There are more jobs than candidates to fill them," said Evan Lesser, director of Clearance Jobs. Nearly 3,000 job vacancies are currently posted at Lesser's site. That's more than twice as many as last month, and Lesser predicts the number will continue to grow.

The federal government is taking cues from the private sector now, Lesser said, and is working on a deal with Clearance Jobs to start using the site for recruiting. He said he expects hundreds more ads to be generated that way, and predicted Clearance Jobs will be carrying nearly twice as many openings in 2007 as it does now, thanks in part to a pact being completed with the Homeland Security Department and various intelligence agencies.

A DHS spokesman did not respond Friday afternoon to a request for comment on the deal.

A DSS spokeswoman on Friday said she did not know when the agency would resume processing clearances, and could not confirm how many more applications have been added to the backlog since May 1, when 3,000 applications stacked up because the agency ran out of funds. OPM took over the task of conducting background checks in February 2005, but DSS still has to cover the cost of processing applications, which can be thousands of dollars each, depending on the level of clearance needed.

"There's been no change" since DSS' late-April move to stop handling applications, said spokeswoman Karen McGovern.

After the unexpected announcement of DSS' freeze on advancing clearance applications, House lawmakers rushed an amendment into the fiscal 2007 National Defense Authorization Act preventing already cleared contractors from losing their clearance if it expires while renewal applications are stalled. In addition, the House Government Reform Committee will conduct a hearing Wednesday on the situation.

Piske said contractors in the clearance renewal process are not made less vulnerable by the House amendment.

"If a clearance holder is in the middle [of the renewal process], the employer is reluctant to hire," he said, because of the possibility of rejection.