FSO Certification depicted as a hand writing with a transparent image of a lock superimposed over it

How to Get An FSO Certification To Serve Your Organization

contractor, DoD Compliance, RDA

Getting your FSO certification, enabling you to become a Facility Security Officer, is a great career move and more importantly will help your organization stay in compliance with the security requirements of defense or federal government contracting. Facility Security Officers play a critical role in ensuring the safety and integrity of information and resources. What is a Facility Security Officer and what is it like to become one? Two employees of Sentient Digital’s subsidiary RDA, Inc., who recently obtained their FSO certifications, as well as a Sentient Digital FSO who mentored them, contributed insights from their experiences to this guide. 

What is a Facility Security Officer?

A Facility Security Officer (FSO) is a designated, trained, and certified employee of an organization that serves as a contractor to the U.S. military. The FSO’s responsibilities may include ensuring that the organization complies with its security obligations under the National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual “NISPOM Rule” for government contractors, as well as other applicable security regulations. In reality, the day-to-day work of an FSO involves a variety of complex operations and for this reason it takes training and eventually FSO certification to obtain this role. Now that you have an answer to “What is a Facility Security Officer?” the next step is understanding who can become one. If you are considering becoming an FSO or trying to determine who in your organization should become your FSO, you will need to be aware of the eligibility requirements.

A Sentient Digital graphic with a brief definition, Answering What Is A Facility Security Officer?

What are the eligibility requirements for seeking FSO Certification? 

In order to seek FSO certification, a person must be an employee of the contracting organization, rather than a contractor themselves. Additionally, the prospective FSO must be a U.S. Citizen and have the appropriate level of clearance for the cleared facility (meaning a facility that has obtained Facility Clearance). The Cognizant Security Authority (CSA), meaning the department or agency in charge of security for the particular contract may impose additional requirements for the FSO. 

How To Obtain Your FSO Certification

To begin the FSO Certification process, your organization must choose you as a candidate. Upon accepting this appointment, you will begin an approximately 50-hour training process administered by the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA). There is some flexibility in the pacing of the training, in terms of how far you can spread this training out, but the training must be completed within six months of appointment as FSO. There may be additional requirements from the CSA as well, such as to take a program management course. 

What is it like undergoing the FSO Certification Process?

If you meet the eligibility requirements to seek FSO certification, you may wonder what the experience will entail. How intense is the work involved? Will it fit in well with your other responsibilities? As an employer, you may wonder how it will impact your employee’s capacity to take on work during the training period. 

In order to give a better sense of the experience, three FSOs gave their perspective on FSO certification. RDA has two newly minted FSOs, Tina Greaves and Lisa Dionne. Together, they have been working with Terri Mrock, an FSO for Sentient Digital, who has served in a sort of mentorship role, answering questions about the facilities they have had throughout the process and showing them how to find the information they need. 

Greaves notes that the certification process for herself and Dionne involved approximately 50 hours of training and testing within a six-month window.  However, they both completed the process early, indicating the flexibility of timing of the courses within the six-month timeframe.

Regarding the subjective experience of going through the process, Dionne notes that, “In my recent FSO certification training over this past summer, I have come to appreciate more fully the extent of the honesty and goodwill of government contract workers, who act with the utmost integrity in their daily undertakings to minimize bad actors, and protect and safeguard information that directly affects the efforts of the warfighter in protecting the lives and interests of the American people.” Even though the training may seem daunting when you contemplate beginning it, you may enjoy the process and find that it furthers your appreciation of your organization and fellow employees. 

Mrock, who had previously completed the process of becoming an FSO for Sentient Digital, recalled her experience of becoming an FSO, stating, “The transition to an Industry FSO was based on my experiences as a Security Officer while I was active duty in the Navy. I was able to provide the continuity for SDi when the company was really first starting and didn’t have a qualified person for the position. I did complete the required FSO training well in advance of the 6 month due date.” Mrocks experience again indicates that it is possible to complete the FSO training for certification prior to the six-month deadline, which may help with fitting it around your other work requirements.  

What can you expect once you become an FSO?

If you become an FSO, you will continue to have support in performing your tasks from DCSA. DCSA provides resources including a Facility Security Officer Toolkit via its Center for Development of Security Excellence. Recognizing the many complex situations FSOs need to be able to handle, the Toolkit is organized by situation, and among the included tools are links to eLearning courses, Job Aids, and links to relevant entities and helpful items such as a sample Technology Control Plan (TCP). Just as the work of an FSO involves continually keeping the organization’s facility security measures up to date, an FSO must always stay up to date on security risks and prevention and remediation plans, so continuing education and support is provided. 

With regard to what having FSO certification brings to her work, Greaves says that since she and Dionne completed the certification, RDA now has 2 home-grown FSOs who RDA’s people, its customers, and its facilities, and have the credentials for an in-house FSO position. She notes that RDA Doylestown and RDA Warrenton are both Possessing Facilities and are held to a higher standard of security requirements. 

FSOs should bear in mind the importance of having a strong understanding of the areas Greaves mentions (fellow employees, customers, and the facilities themselves). With regard to the people element in particular, enforcement of security policies is much easier when employees buy into the need for them, and this can be much more easily achieved through the “home-grown” relationship that Greaves describes.

Greaves notes that she and Dionne continue to learn as FSOs as new items and issues arise.  However, they will work closely together to ensure RDA’s Security Compliance as Possessing Facilities in accordance with the NISPOM requirements. This clearly illustrates the need for collaboration among qualified security professionals in order to achieve their objectives. It is also apparent that a desire for continual growth and personal development to become a better FSO must be present for an employee to serve effectively in this role.

Dionne also stresses the continual growth and support that take place both during certification and as she begins working as an FSO, stating, “I feel very privileged to be part of this great cause and feel fully supported by my colleagues at RDA, Inc. and Sentient Digital.” She particularly thanks Greaves I “for her patience and guidance in this process” and noted that she looks forward to working with her “in providing outstanding service to our fellow employees and in ensuring we are in absolute compliance with all NISPOM requirements for RDA, Inc.”

As reflected in these comments, in evaluating whether the role of FSO is for you, it is important to consider whether you feel this kind of passion about the cause of security and have a team around you that will put in the work to support you in this mission. Similarly, organizations endeavoring to determine the best employee to serve as an FSO should consider whether that employee possesses these traits of mission-focus and an attitude of collaboration in service to that mission. 

When it comes to the practical elements of working as an FSO, Mrock notes that maintaining a clearance is currently easier than ever, due to the use of Continuous Evaluation. Continuous Evaluation essentially means that less is required from personnel who apply and makes the program easier to manage.

Mrock also discussed the supportive environment as an important aspect of her work as an FSO. “We have a ‘network’ of FSOs for Sentient Digital and RDA, and all four FSOs are comfortable reaching out with questions or when assistance is needed. I think that gives us an even stronger program.” Once again, these comments indicate the importance of being willing to reach out for help and being able to receive it when working as an FSO. 

Interested in learning more about federal government or defense contracting?

SDi and its subsidiary RDA have many years of experience in government and military contracting. You can read more about some of the services we provide here. If you are interested in more resources about government contracting topics, check out our blog posts on topics such as the IPV6 Mandate and OTAs. Additionally, we are happy to share our advice for job seekers in our industry, such as issues surrounding security clearance, and if you have the qualifications to be an asset to our work, we encourage you to apply for our open positions