Emerging Technology
day one project

Shared Classified Commercial Coworking Spaces

06.26.24 | 6 min read | Text by Eric Snelgrove

The legislation would establish a pilot program for the Department of Defense (DoD) to establish classified commercial shared spaces (think WeWork or hotels but for cleared small businesses and universities), professionalize industrial security protections, and accelerate the integration of new artificial intelligence (AI) technologies into actual warfighting capabilities. While the impact of this pilot program would be felt across the National Security Innovation Base, this issue is particularly pertinent to the small business and start-up community, for whom access to secure facilities is a major impediment to performing and competing for government contracts.

Challenge and Opportunity 

The process of obtaining and maintaining a facility clearance and the appropriate industrial security protections is a major burden on nontraditional defense contractors, and as a result they are often disadvantaged when it comes to performing on and competing for classified work. Over the past decade, small businesses, nontraditional defense contractors, and academic institutions have all successfully transitioned commercial solutions for unclassified government contracts. However, the barriers to entry (cost, complexity, administrative burden, timeline) to engage in classified contracts has prevented similar successes. There have been significant and deliberate policy revisions and strategic pivots by the U.S. government to ignite and accelerate commercial technologies and solutions for government use cases, but similar reforms have not reduced the significant burden these organizations face when trying to secure follow-on classified work.

For small, nontraditional defense companies and universities, creating their own classified facility is a multiyear endeavor, is often cost-prohibitive, and includes coordination among several government organizations. This makes the prospect of building their own classified infrastructure a high-risk investment with an unknown return, thus deterring many of these organizations from competing in the classified marketplace and preventing the most capable technology solutions from rapid integration into classified programs. Similarly, many government contracting officers, in an effort to satisfy urgent operational requirements, only select from vendors with existing access to classified infrastructure due to knowing the long timelines involved for new entrants getting their own facilities accredited, thus further limiting the available vendor pool and restricting what commercial technologies are available to the government.

In January 2024, the Texas National Security Review published the results of a survey of over 800 companies from the defense industrial base as well as commercial businesses, ranging from small businesses to large corporations. 44 percent ranked “accessing classified environments as the greatest barrier to working with the government.” This was amplified in March 2024 during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on “Outpacing China in Defense Innovation,” where Under Secretary for Acquisition and Sustainment William LaPlante, Under Secretary for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu, and Defense Innovation Unit Director Doug Beck all acknowledged the seriousness of this issue. 

The current government method of approving and accrediting commercial classified facilities is based on individual customers and contracts. This creates significant costs, time delays, and inefficiencies within the system. Reforming the system to allow for a “shared” commercial model will professionalize industrial security protections and accelerate the integration of new AI technologies into actual national security capabilities. While Congress has expressed support for this concept in both the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act and the Fiscal Year 2022 Intelligence Authorization Act, there has been little measurable progress with implementation. 

Plan of Action 

Congress should pass legislation to create a pilot program under the Department of Defense (DoD) to expand access to shared commercial classified spaces and infrastructure. The DoD will incur no cost for the establishment of the pilot program as there is a viable commercial market for this model.  Legislative text has been provided and will be socialized with the committees of jurisdiction and relevant congressional members offices for support.

Legislative Specifications


(a) ESTABLISHMENT. – Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this act, the Secretary of Defense shall establish a pilot program to streamline access to shared classified commercial infrastructure in order to:

(b) DESIGNATION. – The Secretary of Defense shall designate a principal civilian official responsible for overseeing the pilot program authorized in subsection (a)(1) and shall directly report to the Deputy Secretary of Defense.


(d) DEFINITION. – In this section:

(d) ANNUAL REPORT. – Not later than 270 days after the date of the enactment of this Act and annual thereafter until 2028, the Secretary of Defense shall provide to the congressional defense committees a report on establishment of this pilot program pursuant to this section, to include:

(e) TERMINATION. – The authority to carry out this pilot program under subsection (a) shall terminate on the date that is five years after the date of enactment of this Act.


Congress must ensure that the nonfinancial barriers that prevent novel commercially developed AI capabilities and emerging technologies from transitioning into DoD and government use are reduced. Access to classified facilities and infrastructure continues to be a major obstacle for small businesses, research institutions, and nontraditional defense contractors working with the government. This pilot program will ensure reforms are initiated that reduce these barriers, professionalize industrial security protections, and accelerate the integration of new AI technologies into actual national security capabilities.