DISA, Defense Security Service explain security clearance processes to small businesses
Nearly 50 small business representatives attended an informational event hosted by the Defense Information Systems Agency’s (DISA) Office of Small Business Programs Oct. 29 at the agency’s Headquarters on Fort George G. Meade, Maryland.
The outreach event focused on helping members of the small business community understand personnel and facility clearance processes, and featured speakers from the Defense Security Service (DSS) and DISA.
“I really got a lot out of hearing about the unwritten parts of the process and about some of the current workflows and timeframes for getting things out,” said attendee Adrienne Benton, president and chief executive officer of Onyx Spectrum Technology in Boston, Massachusetts. “Learning what the priorities are is very helpful, so hopefully when we go through the process, we can help the clearance folks help us better.”
Individual Security Clearances
Ivory Lawrence, a personnel security specialist from the DSS Vetting Risk Operations Center (VROC), described VROC’s current protocol for processing clearances for industry personnel, which includes interim eligibility determinations for access to classified information. Interim clearances afford small business owners and their employees the ability to begin work on contracts as the clearance process is completed.
According to Lawrence, VROC received approximately 220,000 Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (e-QIP) submissions in fiscal year 2018, with initial secret clearances taking about 18 months to complete. Top-secret investigations are averaging 15 months for completion.
“In FY18, we made 80,000 interim determinations,” said Lawrence. “As of Oct. 26, we have been able to get the time from e-QIP submission to interim determination down to just 20 days.”
Greg Valentine, director of corporate development and operations for LTG Federal, Tysons Corner, Virginia, said the event was worthwhile and informational.
“A big take away for me is the amount of work and the ‘why’ for security backlogs,” said Valentine. “They did a good job of explaining why some of these things are taking more than 360 days and the amount of work that is done.”
Another key element for small businesses working in the federal government space is obtaining a facility clearance (FCL).
Dessie Howard and Michael Davis, industrial security representatives from DSS, provided detailed information on FCL eligibility requirements, facility clearance processing roles, and FCL sponsorship processes defined in the National Industry Security Program Operating Manual (NISPOM). The NISPOM mandates how a company may become eligible for access to classified information or be awarded a classified contract.
The DSS representatives also explained three key points regarding facility clearances:
- An FCL is not required to bid on a contract.
- If the selected vendor does not have an established FCL, time must be built into the schedule to allow for the full FCL process.
- Contractors must have a facility clearance to work on or with classified material.
“We provide face-to-face guidance for companies such as yours, so please don’t be intimidated by the thickness of the NISPOM,” said Davis, who explained the DSS focuses on education and assistance, along with compliance.
Stacey Cobbs, principal and chief procurement officer of Crowned Grace International, Lanham, Maryland, said the presentation gave her a better understanding of the FCL process, and she was encouraged to know the DSS industrial security representatives are available to offer assistance.
“That was something reiterated several times,” said Cobbs.
Carlen Capenos, director of DISA’s Office of Small Business Programs, pointed out that while DSS doesn’t require businesses to have a facility clearance, most agencies will.
“Every contracting officer makes the determination of what will be required for a particular contract,” said Capenos. “For instance, with DISA’s Systems Engineering, Technology, and Innovation (SETI) contract, companies were able to win the contract without a facility site clearance, but they won’t be able to propose on task orders until they receive their FCL.”
H. Brent Prestley, chief of DISA’s Security Programs Section, said his office ensures each statement of work, statement of objective, and performance work statement provides specific, qualifying security justifications for the FCL.
He emphasized a critical, often overlooked, responsibility of small business owners is ensuring their DD Form 254, “Contract Security Classification Specification Form,” is complete and correct.
“Small business representatives left our event with foundational knowledge regarding the personnel and facility clearance processes,” said Arielle Douglas, associate director of DISA’s Office of Small Business Programs. “The DSS representatives are very knowledgeable and provided insight to assist small businesses in being successful in pursuing business opportunities with DISA.”
Posted October 30, 2018