The demand for tech talent continues to outpace the supply. Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in the federal government, where employers and contractors require not just individuals with cutting edge tech skills, but also hard-to-obtain security clearances. The wait time for a Department of Defense security clearance is at 459 days for a Top Secret security clearance. And while government leaders and legislators are vowing to make improvements to the process, reforms are happening at the pace of government – slow.
If you’re a government contractor with a product or service to deliver to the federal government, what are your options? A recent Wall Street Journal report noted defense contractors including General Dynamics were using giant black tarps to separate elements of a nuclear submarine from uncleared eyes. It’s just one way contractors are creating stovepipes between classified and unclassified work, to ensure the mission doesn’t suffer just because the security clearance process is.
Sequoia Holdings, a cyber, analytics and big data solutions provider with the federal government has experienced the effects of the backlog, both as it works to acquire talent and as it works to help its partners provide critical support to the federal government.
“This clearance backlog problem is incredibly important to fix,” noted Jay Pendarvis, vice president of Sequoia Holdings. “We’re literally jeopardizing the mission in a lot of cases because we don’t have the right amount of resources, our pool of candidates is entirely too small, and people are literally sitting in a backlog.”
Rather than wringing their hands, Sequoia Holdings is taking an aggressive approach.
“We’re doing a couple of things at Sequoia to try to eliminate the problem of the backlog,” said Pendarvis.
Those efforts include:
- An unclassified clearance pipeline.
- Encouraging comprehensive reforms, including the use of Artificial Intelligence in the background investigation process.
- A product called Combine that creates an unclassified version of the classified version of the Amazon Web Services cloud.
The unclassified clearance pipeline works by reaching out and recruiting college students in their junior year. Sequoia Holdings finds college talent with the data analytics and cyber skills it needs. And by beginning the security clearance process in their junior year, by the time the student graduates (18 months later), they have the clearance they need to get to work today.
The idea for Combine came after the Intelligence Community awarded its cloud contract to Amazon Web Services, said Pendarvis. That created a problem for commercial vendors creating products and assuming that what worked on AWS would work on C2S, the IC cloud. Combine was created to ensure products work effectively, but also to allow people who don’t have clearances to do product development and low to high development and then transition those products to the engineers who do have the clearances, who can transition them into the classified environment.
“So now you can leverage a larger pool of candidates to do development services for the intelligence community,” said Pendarvis. “We have about 40 customers right now who are doing that. It enables them to leverage all of their resources.”
As you can imagine, simulating a classified environment comes with its own security concerns. Which is why Sequoia Holdings works with the government to ensure the security of its environment. Balancing security with the ability to provide cutting-edge tools is critical to helping the government succeed and compete.
“We’re leveraging the best of the open source community, specifically, within these organizations, and we’re creating an environment where they can be as creative as they want to be,” said Pendarvis.
And that may be key to busting through the backlog – creativity.
“There’s not one solution to this problem,” said Pendarvis. “It’s ‘all of the above’ – it’s Combine, it’s the unclassified candidate pipeline, it’s the resources that already have clearances supporting the high side – it’s all of the above, because it’s a large mission, it’s very complex, and we all have to be working on these things.”