Delays in awarding security clearances to government staff are continuing to lead to shortages of IT staff in key roles, it was claimed this week.
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Computer Weekly revealed in January that government departments were facing shortages of IT staff with the security clearances needed to work on sensitive networking projects.
But according to recruitment firm ReThink Recruitment, delays are continuing to disrupt government IT projects. The long-winded vetting process means that private sector IT specialists without security clearance are effectively being excluded from government jobs, said Jon Butterfield, managing director at ReThink Recruitment.
"A lot of contracts in IT are short term and by their very nature need to be fulfilled quickly, so candidates that are already security-cleared tend to be favoured for roles at the expense of people from the private sector without security clearance," he said.
ReThink said the Defence Vetting Agency set a target for two weeks for routine background checks before the 7 July bombings.
However, in practice, vetting often takes more than four weeks, and can be considerably longer for IT contractors who have relocated or spent time abroad.
Because the pool of security-cleared candidates is small, those with clearance can demand a 20% premium over the rates offered to equivalent private sector candidates.
The problem is exacerbated because the Defence Vetting Agency cannot security check candidates unless they are sponsored by an employer, but public sector employers often refuse to sponsor candidates unless they are security-cleared first.
Butterfield called for the government to put more resources into vetting to reduce a backlog of demand in the public sector.
"Speeding up the vetting process should make it easier to bring in private sector expertise. This should ease pressure on public sector rates, which have risen to among the highest across all sectors of the economy," he said.
The Cabinet Office needs to look at whether the rules can be adapted, Butterfield said.