CLASSIFIED WORKNew Small Business Innovation Sources Tapped for Classified Efforts

Published 21 September 2022

DOD often seeks innovative and creative solutions to complex, classified challenges, but the DOD is currently only able to access a limited pool of companies cleared to work on them. Pilot program aims to expand pool of small companies cleared to work on classified defense projects.

The Department of Defense (DOD) seeks innovative and creative solutions to complex, classified challenges, but the DOD is currently only able to access a limited pool of companies cleared to work on them. Companies must have a facility clearance and their employees must hold security clearances to do classified work. But for a company to have a facility clearance, it must have a contract requiring classified work to justify the clearance. This current model results in a cyclical pattern that precludes the injection of new companies and ideas into the classified DOD research and development ecosystem.

DARPAannounced the Bringing Classified Innovation to Defense and Government Systems (BRIDGES) program, which aims to tap into innovation from companies that traditionally do not work with the DOD on classified research and development efforts. BRIDGES will connect innovators directly to the challenging problems that exist in the classified realm so they can help develop solutions.

“There’s a large U.S. innovation talent base at small companies across our country that we currently aren’t able to tap into for solutions to classified technology challenges,” said Greg Kuperman, the DARPA program manager for BRIDGES, who announced the effort Sept. 14 at the conclusion of the DARPA Forward event on the campus of Washington State University. “This program aims to create bridges to those small businesses and entrepreneurs, whose creative ideas and technical expertise could help us create and prevent strategic national surprise on classified projects.”

BRIDGES will solicit companies that traditionally do not work with the DOD to join a government-sponsored consortium focused on specific topic areas of interest to the DOD. DARPA will sponsor consortium members for a facility clearance, so consortium members can have interactions with government personnel at classified levels up to Top Secret (TS), Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) and Special Access Programs (SAP). Additionally, consortium members will receive access to classified work areas and networks at specified locations where they can conduct classified work.

The purpose of these interactions is to inform companies on selected classified problems of interest to DARPA and the DOD, and to enable companies to develop innovative solutions to those problems. The ultimate goal for a company in the consortium is to demonstrate its value to the government for classified programs, and to “graduate” out of the consortium with a contract for a classified program.

DARPA will periodically release new topic areas for the BRIDGES consortium to focus on,” said Kuperman. “If you and your company are interested in participating, we encourage you to submit a few pages explaining why your company is capable of innovating in that topic area. The main idea here is to convince us that we should sponsor you for a clearance so that you can help solve challenging classified problems.”

The BRIDGES pilot initiative will be 30 months in length and provide funding of $50,000 per 12-month period to companies selected to the consortium.

A program solicitation with full details about BRIDGES will be released on www.SAM.gov in October, with specific topic areas to follow.

For additional information and updates about BRIDGES, including frequently asked questions, please visit the BRIDGES website: https://www.darpa.mil/work-with-us/bringing-classified-innovation-to-defense-and-government-systems.

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