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National Security Compensation Sees a Significant Increase

With the economy under pressure from rising costs, people with active federal security clearances are pushing for higher compensation.

In December, Congress passed a record defense budget of $858 billion. Budgets aren’t the only thing on the increase, however – national security compensation is seeing a significant uptick, as employers vie for a limited pool of talent to work critical support functions, particularly in tech and cyber.

According to the results of the 2023 Security Clearance Compensation Report, average total compensation for national security workers with an active federal security clearance is $108,611, a 7% increase from the prior year. Over half of the cleared workforce today earns more than six figures, with some management positions in national security earning average salaries over $150,000. 

“The national security job market remains strong and with nearly full employment across the workforce, the competition to both attract and retain cleared talent is fierce,” said Evan Lesser, founder and president of ClearanceJobs. It makes sense to see compensation increasing. Allowing salaries to stagnate is simply not an option in this market.”

While national security can’t necessarily compete with stock options and the high salaries of the big tech community, recent layoffs demonstrate it has some things others can’t offer: stability and unmatched mission. When it comes to why respondents chose to work in national security, the desire to strengthen and protect the country ranked first, steady work ranked second, and good compensation was third. The intrinsic value of supporting the government can outweigh the compensation – especially with layoffs looming. 

Pay for government contractors continues to outpace government employees, with government employees earning an average of $102,140, and contractors earning an average of $112,084, according to the ClearanceJobs survey. But with federal employees expected to get a 4.6 % increase in 2023 – almost double the salary hike they saw in 2022 – government employee compensation should increase further for next year’s report.

Climbing Up the National Security Compensation Ladder

As the Defense Department implements the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification, the value of being cleared and certified only increases. Those with certifications earned $8,000 more than other national security workers and made up 52% of respondents. A master’s degree increased compensation by $20,000. When it comes to national security careers, it pays to be cleared, certified, and educated.

In addition to certifications and degrees, increasing clearance level is another way to work up the compensation ladder. Comparing DoD and intelligence community workers, those supporting intelligence earn an average of $139,970 - $20,000 more than DoD clearance holders.

While national security can’t always compete with commercial sector salaries, there is one area where you may be surprised to see national security keeping pace with the commercial sector: remote work opportunities. The number of respondents with remote or hybrid work options increased to 53%, a 7% increase over the prior year. Even as many commercial sector companies announce return to office plans, many individuals supporting the federal government note the option of remote work and the reality that workforce flexibility is here to stay. 

Workplace flexibility, rising compensation and a record-high defense budget all spell good news for those considering a move into national security. 

“This is the year where everything went up,” said Jill Hamilton, senior editor of ClearanceJobs. “Inflation, layoffs, talent demands, compensation – everything is on an upward trend. While some companies downsize following the massive hiring efforts to keep pace with the pandemic, others are actively trying to scoop up talent. With an economy that is under pressure with rising costs, cleared candidates are pushing for higher compensation.”

Download the full 2023 Security Clearance Compensation Report to see a breakdown of compensation by clearance level, state, occupation, and more.