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Security Clearance for Government Suppliers and Contractors

Jun 01, 20043 mins

Companies that want to work with the government will need security clearance to do it. Easier said than done.

Where are lots of opportunities for private-sector security vendors to work for the federal government. Agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration, are always looking for cutting-edge security technology. However, in order to work for the federal government, you need to first secure a contract and then obtain security clearance for all employees who will work on the project

not an easy task. This clearance involves a waiting period of nearly a year, which adds a layer of bureaucratic red tape for companies that want to work with the feds.

“It takes 350 days for a clearance to get finalized. We want to find out why it takes so long,” says Robert White, a spokesman for Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. White says the committee plans to meet with industry and government officials to determine if there is anything they can do to help, legislative or not. The majority of clearances are processed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which conducts more than 2 million security clearance investigations every year. CSO spoke with the OPM about a year ago, and even then, this organization was struggling with the slow process of clearances. The OPM declined to comment for this story because it is currently partaking in congressional testimony on this topic.

A big part of the problem exists in the chicken-and-egg nature of clearances. A company must first obtain a contract to work on a specific job in order to request a clearance. This leaves a substantial gap between when a company successfully lands a contract and when it can actually put some of its own cleared employees to work on that problem, says Jim Regan, director of the George Mason University Procurement Technical Assistance Program, a nonprofit organization funded by the Defense Logistics Agency and George Mason University. The program increases contracting activity between small businesses, prime government contractors and the government.

Regan agrees that this backlog is a problem. “Best thing I can recommend: try to hire someone who already has clearances. That said, in the Washington area, folks with clearances in the software area are in short supply,” says Regan.

A coalition of industry groups has formed to suggest reforms to the security clearance process. This group includes the Information Technology Association of America, the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, and the Professional Services Council. The coalition’s suggestions include using private-sector adjudicators to decrease backlog, and standardizing data and processes for clearances.

It could be months before there are any solid resolutions. In the meantime, it might be a good idea to take stock of who in your company has clearances before applying for that government contract job.