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Clearances 101

Security clearances are needed to ensure that only trustworthy people have access to classified and sensitive information. There are different types of clearances depending on the level of access to classified information involved. Different types of security clearances are needed for direct jobs with the federal government, as well as jobs in private sector firms that handle government contracts.

The level of security clearance is based on the level of information needed for individuals to perform their jobs. "Information" is really a broad term because it could mean anything from the contents of an intelligence report to plans for a special, high-security building, access to a piece of advanced equipment, techniques to gather intelligence, knowledge of sensitive operations, and much more. There is also a category of information called "For Official Use Only" (FOUO), which should not be released to the public. For example, this could refer to the printed daily schedule for a military base or a ship - something that should not be given to the public, but is not technically classified.

The most common levels of clearances are: Secret, Top Secret and Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI).

A company must have formal approval before it can obtain clearances for the government for any of its employees. A "Facility Clearance" is given to a company after it demonstrates three things: it can provide services needed on a classified contract, it is prepared to operate a security program internally and it is not owned nor controlled by foreign citizens or governments.

The different types of jobs that require security clearances run the gamut from accounting, construction, engineering and graphic design to information technology, law enforcement, science, analysis, medicine and research. The level of clearance depends on the agency. For instance, anyone who works with the National Security Agency (NSA) must have a Top Secret/SCI clearance. NSA has a variety of jobs that include electrical engineers, intelligence analysts, computer science technicians, warehouse workers, human resources professionals and business managers.

The different levels of clearance also will generally earn you more money annually. It makes sense that the higher security clearance, which gives you more access to more sensitive information about national security, would result in higher pay. For instance, professionals with Top Secret or Top Secret/SCI clearances earn $10,000 more than those with Secret clearances, according to the 2010 Security Clearance Jobs Compensation Survey conducted by ClearanceJobs.com. In addition, security-cleared professionals in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency or National Security Agency earn more than $100,000, according to ClearanceJobs.com.

Overall, security-cleared professionals are among the top 10 percent of earners in the country, according to the survey. On average, those individuals with security clearances make $92,368 annually, which includes salary, overtime, danger pay, and bonuses. California, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Maryland and Ohio are the top 5 highest earning states, according to ClearanceJobs.com.

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