Wall Street or Walmart: What's in your future?

Wednesday - 4/25/2012, 2:00am EDT

Life-after-government can be very, very, very good for career federal workers and military personnel with backgrounds in security and intelligence work. Years of Uncle Sam-time long hours, tension-filled and dangerous assignments and climbing the ladder can and do take a toll on both individuals, spouses and their families. Since the 9/11 attacks, their unique skills and contacts have proven invaluable to corporations, other government agencies and the employees themselves.

Many of the special feds (FBI agents, DEA personnel, Secret Service, FBI, DIA, Diplomatic Security, etc., work while the rest of us are sleeping, doing weekend chores or opening Christmas presents with friends and family.

Like many people in D.C., I see them on a daily basis, well-dressed, very fit men and women with wires coming out of their ears. In one case, they are part of the protective detail for a very senior federal official who lives near our office. They have tough hours. And that's not all they do.

But at the end of the government-service tunnel, the light, deservedly so, can be warm, wonderful and lucrative. Usually. But not always ...

Federal and military personnel who lose their top secret clearances will not enjoy the high prestige, high-salary life after government jobs that many of them anticipated. That doesn't happen often. And when it does, it usually isn't on page one of your local paper, or the lead story on the 11 p.m. news. Like now ...

Top secret clearances are expensive and hard to come by. Getting one is gold. Having one when you retire (in your 50s, with lots of experience and contacts) is platinum. So far, a number of Secret Service staffers and active military personnel have been forced to retire or fired. And lost their security clearances.

Since 9/11, many federal and military personnel have found life after retirement to be lucrative and, for the most part, fun. They often don't have to put in the same hours or run the same risks they did in government. And when they join a contractor (or another federal agency as many do), they come in at a high level, often with high salaries. They have the best of both worlds: A relatively high government pension indexed to inflation, and the best health insurance options around (the FEHBP) for life. Private employers love the fact that they don't have to provide good (or any) health insurance, and that the former feds don't need a pension and can concentrate on the company's 401(k) plan. They also are impressed by the former fed/military person's background and contacts. And they are delighted that the process of renewing or updating a Top Secret clearance is either easy (as in less time-consuming and costly) or unnecessary. Unless ...

That Top Secret clearance has been taken away. For cause. Then the prospective job-hunter has got a problem. A big one.

"No clearance, no job," said a long-retired Secret Service employee. " Or the job is on the security detail at Wal-Mart ... not the top security job with a major bank, a credit card company or with a beltway bandit who's offering good pay and super perks."

As punishments go, is that hardly enough, just about right or way too much?

What could possibly go wrong?

This has been a tough month for the federal establishment. From GSA and the Secret Service to an overhaul of the Postal Service, the retirement application backlog and key House and Senate votes this week. Today at 10 a.m., our guests on Your Turn radio show, Stephen Losey and Sean Reilly, with the Federal Times, will rundown the who, what, when, where and why of the situations.

Listen if you can (1500 AM or online), at 10 a.m. and if you have questions email them to me at mcausey@federalnewsradio.com or call in during the show at (202) 465-3080. The show will be archived here.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

Are you smarter than an eighth-grader? Don't be so sure. A New York State standardized test question not only stumped students, but teachers, administrators and most everybody else, the New York Daily News reports. The test question presented the story of a talking pineapple, who challenges a hare to a race. (Clearly, Aesop, this ain't.) Other animals gather around to predict who will win the race. In the end, the hare wins and the other animals eat the pineapple. Students were then quizzed on the perplexing matter of why the animals ate the pineapple as well as which animal was the wisest.