The federal government is facing a vast backlog of people seeking security clearances, as more than 700,000 applicants are waiting on background checks. According to The Washington Post, as of March, the process for a top secret security clearance took more than 450 days to conclude, a federal official reported in May – more than a half-year longer than it took in April 2016.

 As the backlog mounts, the Office of Personnel Management stopped reporting on the numbers of people waiting for approval. OPM is currently without a permanent director after George Nesterczuk – who President Trump had nominated to lead the effort – withdrew his name from consideration, the Post reports.

Background checks have been an ongoing challenge – with increasingly long wait times – since the Edward Snowden leaks, and especially after the OPM data breach in 2015. 

The delays are complicating life for government contractors, as a shortage of cleared, qualified personnel is making it difficult to fill key positions. Contractors or employees may already be on the payroll, but a lack of clearance means they cannot start work. According to defense manufacturer Raytheon, individual cases typically take around a year to conclude, and many talented prospects decide to seek alternative employment rather than waiting.

Employees and contractors who do have security clearance, however, may see a wage increase of 5% to 15% over those without clearances, according to a 2013 study from the Human Resources Association of the National Capital Area.