If you’re a small business with an innovative idea you’d like to bring into the government space, the good news is, the government is always looking for small business partners. If you’re looking to specifically break into security clearance work as a small business, you’ll have additional hurdles to consider.
There are two common paths to becoming a cleared contractor – you can apply for a cage code and bid on cleared work, or you can sub-contract to a larger government contractor with current cleared contracts. In either case, you’ll have to undergo the process of obtaining security clearances for some of your workers, and a facility security clearance for your office.
An article by J. Eduardo Ramos, area manager, U.S. Small Business Administration offered up the following information for contractors looking to bid on cleared work:
“The contracting officer and the agency end user may decide that it is in the government’s best interest to make an award to a company without clearance with the specific requirement that an interim clearance be obtained within a certain number of days after contract award. An interim clearance (also known as “interim eligibility”) is based on the completion of minimum investigative requirements and granted on a temporary basis, pending the completion of the
full investigative requirements for the final clearance. Interim Secret clearances can be issued rather quickly once the clearance granting authority receives a properly completed application. Interim Top Secret clearances take two or three months longer. Interim clearances can be denied, if unfavorable information is listed on the application form or at any time unfavorable information is developed during the investigation. All applicants are considered for interim clearances by the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office. With some exceptions an interim clearance permits a person to have access to classified material at all levels of classification up to the level of the clearance requested.
“Interim Secret clearances are not sufficient for access to special categories of classified information, such as COMSEC, NATO, and Restricted Data. Interim Top Secret clearances are sufficient for access to COMSEC, NATO, and Restricted Data at the Secret and Confidential levels only.”
In the case of either becoming a subcontractor on a cleared contract, or applying directly for cleared work with the federal government, an agency needs to sponsor the security clearance request. A small business can not seek out a facility security clearance without first having a cleared contract to work on.
If you’re a small business looking to bid on cleared contracts, first create a CAGE code. A CAGE code is like registering your company for work with the federal government. You may then work with a third party, or begin to do federal contract searches yourself at FedBizOpps.gov.
Does the security clearance process cost the company money?
The federal government pays for the security clearance process; you do not have to pay to obtain a facility security clearance, or to process your staff for personnel security clearances. That said, there are indirect costs related to obtaining a facility security clearance. If you have to create specific office space for a Sensitive, Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), there is a cost. There are also personnel costs related to adhering to clearance requirements, such as training or staffing a facility security officer position, or conducting employee trainings on topics like insider threats.
Which agency awards facility security clearances?
The Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO), a part of the Defense Security Service (DSS), processes and adjudicates Personnel Clearances (PCL) and Facility Clearances (FCL) for defense contractor personnel and defense contractor facilities.