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The pros and cons of working IT in spy agencies

Don’t mind a government job with immense scrutiny? Then the spy agency could be one way to go -- if you pass the intense close-up, that is.

Anyone who’s ever applied to an IT job in an agency that required a top secret clearance is well aware of the intense process they have to go through. But as a 2008 Computerworld article (old but still relevant) pointed out, the scrutiny doesn’t stop at the hiring level. After you get the job, the CIA will continue to do frequent reinvestigations, even throw in regular polygraphs to prevent nefarious activity or an employee gone rogue.

"It's interesting: there's so much scrutiny that a normal person might not want to put up with that. But it's part of the mission,” then-CIA CIO Al Tarasiuk told Computerworld.

The topic was the subject of renewed interest when it was picked up at and a vigorous debate ensued about the pros and cons of working for agencies like the CIA.

“Not only are the entry requirements and investigations rigorous, the continual monitoring of bank accounts, credit cards, social media, email and regular polygraphed interviews are not what most IT personalities would be down for,” one reader wrote. “The pay and other compensation are incredible, though,” he added.

Another reader agreed and said the cumbersome hiring process at certain agencies could make it difficult to hire specialized staff. “I'm aware of a few people employed with three-letter agencies doing sys admin work at remote facilities that bring in ~$150K. The worse part of it, in my opinion, is that the background checking must be so stringent, it apparently makes it hard to hire competent admins.”

And as for raking in the big bucks while working for a secretive agency, one reader had a more sober view on the current reality. “Most federal IT workers won't get past GS-12 in their career,” he/she said. “And with so many years of pay freezes, they're not going to be anywhere near their top salary when they retire. Also, keep in mind that retirement is all or nothing. If you leave after 20 years but before you're 60, you get nothing.”

Do you agree that it take s certain kind of individual to work for a secretive agency? Is the hiring process alone a deterrent to apply for a job at an agency like the CIA? Have you ever gone through the process? What was your experience?

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Dec 19, 2011 at 12:19 PM

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Reader comments

Wed, Dec 21, 2011 Hack1 Fed. Employee

While most likely not as stringent, many Agencies and positions in the Federal Gov. and Contract Agencies are under similar scrutiny, DOJ, DHS, NNSA to name a few. This is a barrier that many otherwise qualified applicants can not overcome due to financial issues and past conduct.

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