Benefits of a Security Clearance: Six-Figure Salary and Job Stability

A new survey of cleared professionals offers a window into their job satisfaction, compensation and future plans.

Government work has never been seen as the place to garner the highest paycheck. But in the wake of the economic upheaval caused by the pandemic, a growing number of professionals are seeing the benefits (and stability) of supporting government missions. ClearanceJobs recently conducted a comprehensive survey of more than 45,000 individuals with active federal security clearances (20,000 former active-duty military, unemployed, and other outlier responses were removed). The results of that survey show growing compensation for cleared professionals and a workforce interested in making career moves—but not necessarily into the commercial sector.

Security clearance total compensation averaged $103,199 in 2020, according to the survey results, a 2% pay bump over 2019. The majority of respondents (82%) reported being with their current employer for five years or less, and 63% said they were with their current employer for two years or less. Despite the pandemic, candidates also expressed increased willingness to make a move, with 85% of respondents at least somewhat likely to change jobs or employers in the coming year, a 4% increase over 2019. While more candidates are willing to make a move, fewer are willing to leave national security careers, however. The majority of respondents (66%) report being “not at all likely” to leave the national security workforce in the next five years, up 9% from 2019.

Evan Lesser, Founder and President of ClearanceJobs, said of the survey’s findings: “In contrast to 2019, which was the year of the government shutdown, 2020 was the year the world shut down—but the national security workforce kept moving forward.”

Compensation by Job

Business sales ($132,035) topped the lists for high paying jobs, with engineering and IT categories right behind. The cleared tech industry dominates the category of six-figure salary occupations, with the majority of IT and engineering positions paying over $100,000, on average. Systems engineers ($131,613) IT software ($127,482) IT data science ($120,986) are top paying tech fields. Management rounds out the top five highest paying cleared jobs with average compensation of $124,854.

When it comes to the agencies offering the highest compensation, the intelligence community dominates, with average compensation of $129,131. And despite the move to virtual work for many agencies and organizations (and the growing trend of virtual recruiting events across government), a few states are still central for national security workers. Virginia, Maryland, D.C., California, Florida and Texas made up 62% of respondents, with a full 22% of respondents residing in Virginia. And while there has been a push to make federal career opportunities available to more geographically dispersed workers, the D.C. metro’s market share grew in 2020, from 39% of all respondents to 42%.

Job and Salary Satisfaction

Fewer respondents in 2020 report being “satisfied” with their jobs, down almost 8% from 2019, to 56%. Likewise, more respondents in 2020 report being “dissatisfied” with their job, up over 3% from 2019. Lower satisfaction combined with increases in likelihood to jump jobs could increase churn as candidates pursue opportunities. Fortunately, the 9% increase in respondents saying they were “not at all likely” to leave the national security workforce means that while new opportunities may be calling, they’re not in the commercial sector.

“If this year has proven anything, it’s that the workforce is able to stay mission focused and collaborate remotely— and even get creative with splitting schedules for onsite classified work and taking unclassified work safely home,” said Lesser. “The increase in cleared professionals who express a desire to stay demonstrate the success of these programs and the willingness of employers and agencies to make their employees’ needs a priority.”

For more information about the survey findings, including compensation by state, read the full “2021 Security Clearance Compensation Report.”

Lindy Kyzer is the editor of and a former Defense Department employee.