IT contractor petitions No10 on security clearance

An IT contractor fed up with security clearance rules for sensitive public sector roles has set up a petition on the Prime Minister Gordon Brown's website.

Glenn Andrews is calling No10 to end the restrictive rules by letting him, and every other IT contractor, pay for a fresh pass to renew their security clearance once it expires.

Allowing IT contractors to 'self-clear' to the security level public roles require will cut joblessness, and offer clients a "better choice" of candidate, his petition says.

Under the current system, IT contractors might have to wait up to three months until the Defence Vetting Agency completes its security checks and grants them clearance.

Although some cases can be handled in a few days, the typical time most contractors spend waiting for DVA approval renders them obsolete to projects on short deadlines.

As a result, no state agency is advertising for IT contractors who are not security-cleared already, Mr Andrews claimed, which would represent a breach of official guidelines.

"This is usually because they need someone to start right away and are not able to wait for clearance to be done, or it may be down to money as it's very expensive to get done."

Also responding to questions, Mr Andrews, whose security clearance expired in 2006, absolved recruitment agencies, saying that in most cases their "hands [were] tied".

"Employers are dictating to them [recruiters] they need the clearance in place first, so it's the Home Office that need to relax the rules as to who can apply for clearance," he said.

Problematically for contractors, Cabinet Office guidance effectively states, 'you cannot obtain work without a security clearance, but you cannot obtain a clearance without work.'

Dubbed by the DVA as the 'Catch 22', the policy is most trying for experienced contractors, like Mr Andrews who has freelanced in IT across state bodies and departments for many years.

"There is a lot of [IT] work being done for government agencies at the moment, such as the MoD contract by the ATLAS Consortium, but only if you're already security-cleared."

Other IT contractors report that their clearance is of no use when seeking a higher level of clearance to work at the same agency, in spite of them having held that level in the past.

According to the DVA, a security clearance provides a certain level of assurance "at a point in time", as to an individual worker's suitability to have access to sensitive information.

However all security clearances are kept under review to ensure the desired level of assurance remains, as a clearance "does not provide a guarantee of future reliability."

"The more people that sign the better," Mr Andrews said of his petition. "We need 500, that's all in order to have this looked at. If a few thousand sign then maybe we could change contracting forever."