This is America – the land of opportunity and home of the brave. This country was created on the premise that all men (and women) are equal. We don’t have kings and queens and we don’t tolerate discrimination due to race, creed, or color. Yet we have a classed society. We have gotten ourselves into a situation where there are two very distinct classes of engineers – those with a security clearance and those without.
Engineers have been suffering just like everyone else during this economic downturn. Some have been laid off more than once and many are worried about their job security. During these troubling times I often hear “If only I could get my security clearance”. The opposite perspective was well stated by a friend: “Got a TS clearance which has helped my employability to no end”.
While some engineers are simply not interested in any type of work that requires a security clearance, others are not so picky. They would welcome the opportunity to level the playing field when competing for security-oriented jobs. Currently they are at a severe disadvantage when the job description contains the phrases “Active Secret Clearance is required” or perhaps “Clearance required: Secret; TS or TS with Full-Scope Poly desired”.
This problem is rooted in the two pervasive challenges of the engineering workplace: time and money. Companies want their new employee available for work immediately. They minimize lengthy delays by restricting the candidate pool to those already cleared. In reality, few companies can afford to hold a highly paid employee on the sideline until the needed clearance comes through.
But what can be done about this problem? Well, They Say We Landed a Man on The Moon, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to solve this. To level the job market playing field the government needs to offer the service of providing a security clearance in a timely fashion to those citizens that request one. Like being prequalified for a mortgage, an individual would be pre-cleared up to a certain level. Such “pre-cleared” individuals would be equivalent in every way to those currently enjoying an active clearance.
How can I ask the already overworked and cash strapped government to do more? Easy. I ask this in the interests of eliminating a classed society and maintaining the personal equality envisioned by the founders of this country – oh, and also to provide the purely practical advantage of removing the disruption cause as companies trade the same cleared employees back and forth from project to project.
To those who may suggest offering clearance to so many people would endanger our security infrastructure I answer in one work – balderdash. If anything, the government would learn a great deal about its citizens by looking closely into the backgrounds of those who request such scrutiny. It is even possible; perhaps likely, this work would detect malfeasance and avert attacks and other mishaps.
Unfortunately, this task is large. By some estimates there are about 300,000 working engineers. I have no idea how many engineers already have security clearances or how many additional are cleared per year. That information may even be classified. However, a quick look at a list of engineering job openings shows many of them require a currently active clearance. Clearly the magnitude of this problem, at least for the first few years clearing the backlog, requires prioritizing which engineers are cleared first. I suggest the following initial prioritized scheme. It can be review periodically.
1. Individuals never convicted of a major crime.
2. Individuals who were previously cleared at any time in the past. This shows a demonstrated interest in this type of work and the high likelihood that the individual will be successfully cleared once again.
3. Individuals with the most needed skills as determined by open job requisitions during the previous six months.
4. Special circumstances.
5. Date of the application.
A web site would be created to allow interested engineers to apply online for a security clearance. Applicants would check appropriate boxes and list any special circumstances to establish their clearance priority. Any applicant found to be lying would be rejected. The web site would log the information and provide the applicant’s position on the list and an estimate of when to expect their clearance. This information would be periodically updated.
The mission of enabling citizens to obtain security clearances should begin immediately. We need to remove the classed society that establishes engineering royalty while holding others unwilling attendants to lesser tasks. It is unacceptable that we have a large number of quality engineers sitting on the sideline instead of working to make our country safer.