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While exploring the federal government marketplace the small business will encounter programs and potential contracts that involve security clearances. This is common in the Departments of Defense, Energy, Homeland Security and many other agencies.
"FedTeDs" (Federal Technical Data Solutions) is a password-protected, web-based tool designed to safeguard the distribution of sensitive, unclassified, acquisition-related information for all federal agencies. FedTeDS allows Contracting Officers (COs) to use the internet to disseminate sensitive information in a secure way and eliminate the need to create and distribute CDs or paper documents. On some programs access to bid documentation may require a company and/or individual registration to acquire access.
Small business must grow into federal government classified programs. Individual and company clearance designations exist at various levels, depending on the relative risk to national security if unauthorized disclosure occurs. Clearances for key management are necessary to achieve a company clearance and all clearances are expensive. Either your company or a sponsor in the form of a prime contractor or government agency must pay for the process; the higher the security clearance the more costly the clearance. For facility clearances involving housing classified material, a building itself may require modifications for classified storage, communication devices or meeting accommodations (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility or SCIF).
Becoming involved in the classified contract venue requires that you budget the time, the expense and the processes necessary and that you expense them in your forecasted overhead rate budgets so the costs can be appropriately priced and recovered via government contract billing. You must also carefully research government regulations such as the "National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual" (NISPOM) which governs the classified environment across all federal agencies:
The US Government security clearance process is based on two major principles:
1. A "Need to Know"
2. A requirement to perform a job on a specific government contract containing classified work.
Initial clearances are obtained by developing a business relationship with an agency or a prime contractor performing classified work and then getting assigned to a contract effort which is classified. Thereafter, clearances at certain lower levels can be carried by your employees or your company to other contracts at the same level of clearance requirement or even to a different agency within certain time constraints. At higher levels of clearances every employee is "Read On" and "Read Off" each and every contract on a singular basis after extensive background checks and in certain instances a polygraph. The process can involve lifetime nondisclosure commitments by an individual.
So you need a sponsor, a prime contractor company or an agency that will process your clearance based on your need to know classified information to participate in classified government contracts. Naturally they must be convinced via your marketing campaign that you can add value to the program involved. If it seems like a "Chicken and Egg" process - it is; but every business working in the venue has to go through the gates discussed in this article and maintain a vigilant program of compliance with associated regulations.