Contractors 'barred' from MoD IT projects

Highly skilled IT contractors are being locked out of lucrative MoD projects because of implications by job agencies that only those with security clearance (SC) can apply.

Disclosures obtained by Contractor UK reveal an unprecedented number of temporary IT workers are being rejected for agency jobs with the MoD, or MoD contractors, because they have no clearance - or their SC has expired.

The majority of these IT professionals said they were newcomers to Defence projects or were established public sector contractors with a CV full of Government end-clients.

"I'm looking for a new contract and am being turned down left and right, as I don't hold a current SC or CTC (counter terrorist) security clearance," one contractor said.

"I would say that in excess of 80 per cent of the roles in central government I might be considered for I'm effectively barred. This is a serious restraint of trade."

Another IT contractor found the urgent demand intrinsic to Defence projects played havoc with more than half the vacancies that called for his specialism.

"I am increasingly finding myself rejected as a possible candidate for jobs following the lapse of a security clearance due to working for a government department that did not require it. This need for a current clearance prevents me from applying for 50 per cent or more or roles I could fulfil.

"It has in effect become a bar to employment even though I have had no problem in the past of achieving high levels of clearance, no one is prepared to wait the time it takes to clear a candidate and I cannot apply myself in advance even at my own expense."

The Ministry of Defence Vetting Agency (DVA) carries out personnel security vetting so that workers can access government installations, valuable assets and sensitive information.

It actions around 140,000 checks and clearances each year, with four tiers of SC available, aiming to ensure people who are given access to sensitive information are unlikely to abuse their position of power.

Clive Hodgeon, deputy chief executive at the DVA, says he has received "a steady stream" of so-called 'Catch 22' complaints from IT contractors.

This is a DVA term to identify the policy, authored by the Cabinet Office, which states, 'you cannot obtain work without a security clearance, but you cannot obtain a clearance without work.'

Any recruitment agency refusing to put forward a candidate who does not possess current security clearance should be reported to the DVA, Hodgeon said.

"IT contractors do not need security clearance to be put forward for MOD work," he told Contractor UK.

"Contractors can apply for an IT vacancy via an employment agency, even if they do not possess a current security clearance. Applicants should challenge any employment agency that says only people who possess a clearance may apply, and any agency which discriminates against uncleared applicants should be reported to the DVA."

Unfortunately, he added, there is "no way to gain ad hoc security clearance," however all applicants need to be sponsored to ensure they are put forward for the security vetting procedures carried out by the Agency.

A MoD project officer, or a security controller in a main contracting company with specific powers to sponsor the clearances, normally fulfils the role of sponsor, yet for each individual project contractors should ask the agent who the sponsor is.

"Applicants should ask who the sponsor is, and approach the sponsor/ security controller directly if they feel the employment agency is discriminating against them because they do not have a clearance," Hodgeon said.

"MoD sponsors and Defence Industry security controllers have been reminded that any employment agency they use must not discriminate against uncleared applicants.

"Job advertisements should include wording along the lines of 'applicants should possess a security clearance or be prepared to undergo clearance checks.'"

The DVA acknowledged its vetting process has been delayed due to a modernisation scheme, which handed some agents an excuse to limit their recruitment trawl to contractors already possessing security clearance.

Yet again, contractors are encouraged to challenge such action because it breaches Cabinet Office policy that states, 'classified contracts and appointments should be open to any suitably qualified organisation/person.'

The Agency even has a posting on its website reiterating the message to contractors and other interested parties.

"Vetting delays are now in the past and the DVA can process most straightforward clearances at the SC level within just a couple of weeks. If this is not fast enough, MoD project sponsors can discuss individual cases with the DVA in order to provide an even faster service should a clearance be particularly urgent."

Such a course of action takes just a few days in straightforward cases.

Clearance is then granted on the condition the candidate has no; "known association with a terrorist group, severe financial problems, personal problems that might make the person vulnerable to outside pressure, certain medical conditions, or a history of breaking the law."

It added that contrary to popular belief, there has been no tightening of vetting procedures in the wake of the July 7 London bombings or the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US.

When asked whether the DVA agreed that the current policy to obtain SC causes a 'restraint of trade' compounded by the unhelpful action, or inaction, from agents, it responded:

"We have been trying to do something about the 'Catch22' problem for some considerable time. We have made the Cabinet Office aware of the problems the current policy causes, and various solutions have been discussed, but none have found favour with all parties involved in the process."

For its part, DVA pledged to provide "a much more responsive service" in the future, aiming for SC provision within days not months; something it hopes will be possible with development and implementation of much-anticipated 'e-vetting.'

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