Protecting Industrial Base: America’s Gatekeeper DCSA to Focus on Small Defence Contractors

Foreign Affairs

Washington: There’s a lesser-known Pentagon agency which plays a key role in enabling small business hoping to break into the multi-billion dollar defence contracting arena.

The Defence Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA),  nicknamed America’s gatekeeper, is better known for conducting 95% of background investigations for federal workers and military personnel, but less so for its role protecting the nation’s industrial base.

However, David Cattler, its new  Director, who took the reins in March, wants to change that. Cattler said he’s in the midst of a “90-day approach” as the leader of an organisation that should be at full performance in five years.

The White House has said small businesses are “the engines of the economy,” and it has told agencies like DCSA to ensure their participation in government contracts.

Outlining his vision for the Agency, he said “I’m a big “first 90 days” person. This is one of several organisations I’ve either joined or created or led over the course of my career that is new or beginning or had some big issues that needed to be addressed. And this one’s no exception.”

The first thing that struck Cattler in the first 90 days was that “we’re not actually fully confident in every way we should be. We’re not fully mature. Some things have to be worked out. If you put it in commercial terms, we’ve gone through a five-year period of strategic merger and acquisition, and that can be tough because you do need to have a mindset of one culture, one team, one brand.”

As Cattler said “DCSA is not just America’s gatekeeper; DCSA should be the nation’s premier provider of integrated security services. So the first task is not to assert that we are that, but to have other people see us in that way, and relatedly to have them see us as their preferred partner.”

On the question of security, he said it  can be viewed by some as an overhead cost. “It’s a must-do, but I’m going to go to compliance. Some — many even — may go the extra mile,” Cattler said.

He sent a letter to  key partners in government and in the private sector when he first arrived, saying: “Call me directly, anytime. Send me an email I want to meet you all. I really want to hear from you. If I can help you, I will.”

Elaborating further on security, he said “I get that security can be viewed as overhead and as a cost, but we need to practice security by design, which means that security really should be baked in from the very beginning. Security is a required element to one’s approach to tackling a contract — the same as it is for us in government before we embark on anything.”

He said the relationship with industry is critically important and is  very, very close. And it is mutually respectful, hopeful and very supportive.