Facility Security Clearance: Definitions and Terminology
Requirements for Obtaining an FCL
Maintaining an FCL: Practices
Procurement Process for ‘Classified’ Contracts
FCL for Subcontractors and Joint Ventures
References, Resources, and Contact Information
1. What is a facility security clearance (FCL)?
An FCL is a determination made by the Government that a contractor is eligible for access to classified information.
- A contractor must have an FCL commensurate with the highest level of classified access (Secret or Top Secret) required for contract performance.
- It is a clearance of the business entity; it has nothing to do with the physical office structure.
- In addition to having an FCL, some companies are required to “safeguard” classified information at their location. If this is the case, then they must receive Government approval to safeguard classified information. Most Department of State contracts (except embassy design and construction efforts) do not require safeguarding.
2. Does the Department of State issue FCLs to contractors?
No. The Department of State is a User Agency under the National Industrial Security Program (NISP) which is administered by Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA), formerly Defense Security Service (DSS). DCSA issues FCLs (as well as personnel security clearances) for most contractors working for the Department of State.
3. Why do some procurements issued by the Department of State require a contractor to have an FCL?
In essence, if personnel working for a contractor require access to classified information in the performance of their duties, the contractor must have an FCL and the personnel must have personnel security clearances (PCLs). Therefore:
- An FCL is required of any contractor that is selected to perform on a classified contract with the Department of State
- An FCL and approved safeguarding is required for firms bidding on a contract in which they will be provided with classified information during the bid phase of a classified contract. An FCL must be issued before any classified material can be provided to the contractor
4. What is the cost of obtaining an FCL?
The Government funds the processing of PCLs and FCLs for access to classified information. There is no cost to the contractor. Contractors are required to be in compliance with the requirements of the National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual (NISPOM).
5. What is a classified contract?
A classified contract is a contract that requires contractor personnel to have access to classified information in the performance of their duties on the contract. As such, they are required to have personnel security clearances (PCLs). In most cases, the actual procurement documentation is NOT classified.
A classified contract can take many forms, to include the following examples:
- A formal contract
- A Request for Proposal (RFP)
- A purchase order
- An Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity contract (IDIQ)
6. What types of contracts are most likely to not require an FCL?
Contracts performed off-site that do not require access to DoS networks, data, or other sensitive or classified records or documents will likely not require the contractor to have an FCL. Examples could include, but are not limited, to providing commercially available products or providing consulting services that do not require access to the Department or its networks.
7. What procurements are available to uncleared bidders?
Uncleared bidders would be eligible for award of contracts which do not require any access to classified information or require the company to provide cleared personnel for contract performance.
8. How much risk is there in awarding to a company that might not get an FCL, and is that part of the decision process for setting it as a baseline?
Awarding a classified contract to an uncleared contractor who must then be sponsored for an FCL has inherent risks, to include delays in contract performance due to the length of time involved in the FCL process, with no guarantee that the company will actually be granted an FCL. This could affect the timeline for contract performance and therefore the ability of DoS to meet its mission needs. Alternatively, in some instances, the Department will select an uncleared contractor for performance but the actual contract will not be awarded until the FCL is issued.
9. Is there a pre-test to determine likelihood of the successful offeror getting an FCL?
No. There is no process for informal / preliminary gauging the likelihood of the successful offeror qualifying for an FCL clearance.
10. Can a contractor request its own FCL?
No. A contractor cannot request its own FCL.
11. How can a contractor obtain an FCL?
An uncleared contractor must be sponsored for an FCL either by the U.S. Government or by another cleared contractor that wants to utilize the contractor’s services on a classified contract.
12. What are the elements of an FCL?
An FCL is a clearance of the business entity. There are three main elements of an FCL:
- Clearance of the key management personnel (KMP)
In order to be issued an FCL, the KMP must be granted PCLs. DCSA determines which contractor personnel are KMP, based on its corporate structure. (For example,
- For example, KMP for a corporation could include the President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, Facility Security Officer (FSO) and Insider Threat Program Senior Official)
- Review of the corporate structure (to include ownership) must be researched by DCSA. Corporate home offices must always be cleared; American parent companies must either be cleared or formally excluded from access to classified information.
- Resolution/mitigation of any foreign ownership, control or influence (FOCI), as foreign influence over a cleared contractor is certainly a concern of the U.S. Government. (In cases where the FOCI is excessive, DCSA must work with the company to minimize the control a foreign entity may exercise over the U.S. contractor (through voting trusts, proxies, etc.). In some instances, though, the FOCI cannot be mitigated and the contractor cannot be issued an FCL.)
13. Can foreign companies be issued an FCL?
Foreign companies cannot be issued FCLs. Foreign-owned U.S. companies can be issued an FCL, but it is contingent on the country from which the foreign ownership is derived and whether the FOCI can be mitigated.
14. How does a cleared contractor process its personnel for personnel security clearances (PCLs)?
When an employee working for a cleared company requires access to classified information in the performance of his or her duties, the company’s FSO initiates the process process for the employee to be processed for a PCL through DCSA. Individuals cannot apply for a personnel security clearance on their own.
The FSO initiates the individual employee’s access to the Standard Form 86 (SF-86) Questionnaire for National Security Position and the applicant completes the SF-86 electronically via the Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (e-QIP) system and provides additional documentation as required.
e-QIPs must be submitted on all KMP and on all contractor personnel who are required to be cleared to perform on a classified contract (or to access classified information during a classified procurement).
NOTE: Individual contractor personnel cannot be issued PCLs until the KMP have been issued PCLs and the company has been issued an FCL.
15. Does a cleared contractor always have to store classified documents at its location?
No, the contractor will only be required to store classified documents at their location if it is a contract requirement. Most Department contracts do not include this requirement and contractor personnel access classified information at Department locations.
16. Once an FCL is granted, can contractors use their internal computers and networks?
A contractor cannot store classified material or generate classified material on any Automated Information System (AIS) until DCSA has provided approval for safeguarding and certified the computer system.
17. Who handles the security responsibilities for a cleared contractor?
All cleared contractors must designate an individual to serve as the Facility Security Officer (FSO) and their Insider Threat Program Senior Official (ITPSO). The FSO and ITPSO are considered KMP; the FSO is responsible for all security matters.
Some, but not all, of the many responsibilities of the FSO include:
- Submission of security clearances packages for contractor personnel,
- Briefing and debriefing of cleared employees,
- Submission of Visit Authorization Requests (VARs),
- Maintaining logs of all classified material (as applicable),
- Maintaining frequent contact with the company’s DCSA Industrial Security (IS) Representative, and
- Ensuring that all security aspects of the contract are being met, to include computer security
Some DoS contractors have FSOs whose exclusive responsibilities are handling industrial security matters for their company. For many DoS contractors, though, FSO duties are a component of their job duty (as an architect, a secretary, etc.). FSOs require extensive support and collaboration from the entire company to successfully meet the requirements of their job.
The FSO should be advised of all classified procurements, from the earliest stages of the procurement process, and should be kept in the loop throughout the life of the contract.
18. What are the considerations for FCL requirements during the acquisition planning phase at US Department of State?
If even one contractor employee will require access to classified information during the performance of a contract (and, as such, be required to have a personnel security clearance) then the contract is considered to be a classified contract and the contractor must have the appropriate FCL to perform on the contract.
19. What office / bureau decides on the level of clearance for an upcoming procurement?
The initial requirement is proposed by the Program Office, as they are the subject matter experts and can best attest to whether access to classified information will be required for contract performance and what level of access (Secret or Top Secret) will be required. The program office then works jointly with A/OPE/AQM and Diplomatic Security (DS/IS/IND) who ensure that the SOW/contract documentation accurately reflect the facility and personnel security clearance requirements for contract performance.
20. What requirements must be met for a contractor to be sponsored for an FCL?
There must be a bona fide procurement requirement for access to classified information in order for the U.S. Government or another cleared contractor to request an FCL for a vendor.
21. What is the Department of State process for sponsoring a company for an FCL? What documentation is necessary in order for the Department to sponsor?
If an uncleared company is selected for award of a classified contract, then the program office and A/OPE/AQM must provide DS/IS/IND with sufficient justification for DS/IS/IND to sponsor the firm for an FCL through DCSA. Provided sufficient justification has been provided, DS/IS/IND will follow the requirements mandated by DCSA to sponsor the firm for an FCL. The company will be issued an FCL once all of the requirements for the FCL have been met. (Refer to FCL requirements on www.dss.mil)
22. How do prime contractor get clearances for their subcontractors?
A prime contractor may sponsor an uncleared subcontractor for an FCL only if they demonstrate a specific need for the subcontractor to access classified information to perform as a subcontractor on the contract. The prime contractor must follow the requirements mandated by DCSA to sponsor an uncleared proposed subcontractor for an FCL and DS/IS/IND will review the justification provided by the prime contractor and must endorse all requests for FCLs by prime contractors before DCSA will initiate the FCL process. The prime contractor must provide sufficient justification demonstrating a bona fide procurement requirement for the subcontractor to access classified information. If DS/IS/IND endorses the request, companies must bear in mind that they must meet all submission deadlines mandated by DCSA. (Refer to FCL requirements on www.dss.mil)
23. Can a subcontractor get an FCL if there is only one person employed by the subcontractor?
No. DCSA will not process an FCL for a one-person company. If a prime contractor wants to utilize the services of an individual who is the sole employee of his/her company, they should consult their Facility Security Officer and consider processing the individual as a consultant to the company. In this instance the person’s clearance would actually be held by the prime contractor…and the prime contractor would pay the consultant directly (not the company).
24. Should the prime contractor attempt to clear its subcontractor at the highest level possible under the specific SOW?
No, this is a waste of resources. The subcontractor should be cleared at the lowest acceptable level that enables the subcontractor to perform the work. Secret FCLs and PCLs take significantly less time and resources then Top Secret FCLs and PCLs. As such, contract performance can begin sooner rather than later. Sponsoring uncleared subcontractors for Top Secret FCLs when it’s not absolutely necessary is wasteful and places an undue burden on the US Government and results in significant contract delays.
25. How do consultants, personal service subcontractors, and “1099s” obtain FCLs?
They do not. Cleared contractors can process individual consultants for personnel security clearances when the consultant and immediate family are the sole owners of a business entity, and the consultant is the only one that requires access to classified information. Specifics regarding this question should be posed to the contractor’s DCSA Industrial Security Specialist to ensure they are following current requirements.
26. Can Joint Ventures get FCLs?
If a joint venture is selected for award of a classified contract, they can be sponsored for an FCL. Bear in mind that if the contract is with a joint venture, then the joint venture itself must be processed for an FCL, even if all JV partners are cleared. DCSA will determine the KMP of a joint venture based on a review of the joint venture agreement. The joint venture must be issued the requisite FCL prior to contract performance. For more information on joint ventures, review the website www.dss.mil’s (Defense Security Service Small Business Guide – Facility Clearance Process).
From a security perspective, the individual joint venture partners may be treated as “subcontractors” of the joint venture, if the joint venture partners, vice the joint venture itself, are actually the entities ‘holding’ the personnel security clearances for specific cleared contractor personnel.
27. Who do I contact at the Department of State if I have questions regarding DoS contracts with facility and personnel security clearances requirements?
The Industrial Security Division (DS/IS/IND) in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) is responsible for administering the Department of State’s National Industrial Security Program. Specific email inquiries can be sent to: DS/IS/INDqueries@state.gov.
28. Additional Resources:
- Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA)
- National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual (NISPOM) provides guidance to contractors on all industrial security matters.