Small businesses that create, design, or enhance leading and bleeding-edge technologies can be heartened by the comments from Major DeAnna Burt, who directs operations and communications at Space Force headquarters.
Challenges for Small Business Participation
Maj. Burt reiterated the commitment to small business participation as being critical technology enablers noting that one of the main issues in bringing innovation from the private sector is allowing firms access to secure systems and programs. She touched on a subject that many in the industry find to be a significant barrier to entry and growth in federal markets.
Cumbersome Security Clearance
Maj. Burt is spot-on when identifying the significant challenges small businesses face in acquiring the proper security credentialing to participate in executing the Space Force mission: to protect U.S. allied interests in space and to provide space capabilities to the joint force.
Obtaining a facility security clearance enables an organization to perform on contracts from the U.S. government or its prime contractors that involve accessing classified national security information. It is the responsibility of the organization awarding the classified contract to award it far enough in advance for the contractor to obtain a facility security clearance.
Although we have seen a real improvement in processing times, especially over the last year, the industry has seen times to process facility clearances exceed 500 days for Top Secret and 250 days for Secret.
The Paperwork Maze
Air Force Chief of Staff, General Charles “CQ” Brown references the “paperwork maze” that small businesses must navigate in order to do business with the military yet he also reiterates a commitment to breaking down barriers to make it easier for small businesses.
Response to Challenges
The concept of the Catalyst Campus at Peterson AFB in Colorado Springs has acted as a ‘test-bed’ for the industry with unique technology that may have difficulty contracting with the government, yet provides a glimmer of hope for small businesses. The goal of the Catalyst Campus is to provide a neutral environment where the Department of Defense can integrate organizations and technologies from multiple companies as needs and threats emerge in a variety of sectors to include aerospace, defense and homeland security, space, cybersecurity, information technology, and other advanced technologies.
Couple this with the intentional effort from Space Force leadership to quicken the pace for small business innovation and application within Space Force command in Washington around DevSecOps and you can understand why there is an unexpected level of excitement for small business leaders to include Space Force as an agency growth target. Development, security, and operations automatically bake in security at every phase of the software development lifecycle, enabling the development of secure software at the speed of Agile and DevOps.
How to Overcome Challenges
Maj. Burt asks, “how do we do these small innovations and the small things so that we can continue to make the fight-tonight mission better?”
Small Business CANNOT be Discounted
My answer is to continue to hold fast to the mindset that small businesses cannot be discounted when considering innovative procurement and new, emergent technology. Small businesses Pride Themselves on Being Inherently Nimble and Tend to be Outcome-Focused.
They Value Partnerships and Authenticity
If the agency can maintain a commitment to small business partnerships in innovation, provide a path for easier procurement (not just doing it for the reasons of hitting agency small business goals) and sponsor facility clearances to expedite the process of bringing new technology to market, then this collaborative ecosystem will certainly help Space Force serve its constituents effectively and efficiently.