Gaining clearance

The process of obtaining security clearances is a chore for any integrator — and a particularly arduous one for a small business.

Just ask Kenneth Bartee, president and chief executive officer of McDonald Bradley Inc., a solutions provider that employs 230 people in Herndon, Va. "It's very difficult for small businesses where you don't have a lot of prime contracts," he said. "I believe small businesses are at a decided disadvantage."

To get a foot in the classified door, a small business first needs to obtain a facility security clearance, which covers an organization's key management personnel. A government agency or a contractor that already has a facility security clearance must sponsor a company seeking its own clearance.

Some industry executives give the National Security Agency high grades for helping small businesses. The agency's small-business advocacy program facilitates the sponsorship process, matching small businesses with appropriate NSA program managers, according to Larry Haynes, program manager for IBM's Government and Global Services Security Operations.

Contractors may provide a lift as well. A contractor might establish an intent-to-do-business pact — a basic ordering agreement, for example — with a small business, Haynes said. That contract could become the basis for sponsorship.

With the facility security clearance in place, a small business may look for opportunities to clear individual employees. But a small business' options may be more restricted in this regard. On contracts involving sensitive information, the agency determines the number of billets — representing cleared personnel — required to do the work. The prime contractor controls the billets and may choose to distribute a portion of them among its subcontractors.

"Primes hold the billets of who gets clearances," Bartee said. Prime contractors may hold a few slots open for small businesses, but "you get limited access to clearing additional people."

Featured

  • Cybersecurity

    DHS floats 'collective defense' model for cybersecurity

    Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wants her department to have a more direct role in defending the private sector and critical infrastructure entities from cyberthreats.

  • Defense
    Defense Secretary James Mattis testifies at an April 12 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.

    Mattis: Cloud deal not tailored for Amazon

    On Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought to quell "rumors" that the Pentagon's planned single-award cloud acquisition was designed with Amazon Web Services in mind.

  • Census
    shutterstock image

    2020 Census to include citizenship question

    The Department of Commerce is breaking with recent practice and restoring a question about respondent citizenship last used in 1950, despite being urged not to by former Census directors and outside experts.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.