Understanding the Role of C3PAOs in Winning DoD Contracts


Government official reviewing DoD ContractsTo win and maintain contracts with the Department of Defense, businesses in the defense industry have high regulatory standards to meet. In the competitive world of defense contracting, complying with these standards for cybersecurity and other data protection processes is essential to demonstrating your ability to handle sensitive information and ensuring the arrival of deliverables on time.

In other words, maintaining regulatory compliance tells the people in charge of granting or renewing DoD contracts that you are trustworthy and reliable—a foundational requirement for anybody looking to stand out in the crowded field of defense contractors. As a result, you can bid on a wider range of contracts, elevate your market potential and your competitive edge, and grow your business.

Maintaining the DoD’s standards for cybersecurity best practices also eliminates the risks of penalties, fines, or loss of contracts due to non-compliance. Meeting these standards means adhering to the CMMC (Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification) 2.0 framework, particularly CMMC Level 2—which requires the help of a reliable C3PAO.

What Does a C3PAO Do for DoD Contractors?

A C3PAO, or CMMC Third Party Assessment Organization, performs the vital role in the federal contracting ecosystem of helping contractors prove that they follow cybersecurity best practices and maintain regulatory compliance. By providing regular assessments to help contractors achieve or maintain CMMC compliance, C3PAOs help contractors widen the range of DoD contracts they can successfully bid on.

A Brief Overview of CMMC 2.0 Levels

Most DoD contracts demand adherence to one of the three maturity levels associated with the CMMC 2.0 framework. Each level sets progressively higher standards for practices and processes across 17 domains to ensure protection for various categories of sensitive data related to national defense.

The lowest CMMC 2.0 levels protect the most basic defense-related information while the highest levels protect the most critical data from persistent threats.

Level 1: Foundational

CMMC Level 1 focuses on safeguarding Federal Contract Information (FCI) and requires the implementation of basic cybersecurity controls and cyber hygiene practices.

Level 2: Advanced

CMMC Level 2 focuses on protecting Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) and requires the implementation of 110 cybersecurity practices across 17 domains. This level represents a more rigorous set of practices and processes aligned with NIST standards that are documented and managed.

Level 3: Expert

Contractors who perform work absolutely critical to national security must adhere to CMMC Level 3 practices to protect CUI against Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs). This level builds upon Level 2 and incorporates additional practices and processes to handle higher levels of threats.

Shining a Light on CMMC Level 2 Requirements

Many DoD contracts require CMMC Level 2 compliance—the intermediary stage between the foundational standards for safeguarding less sensitive FCI and the much higher standards required to protect CUI against consistent cyber threats.

To bid for these contracts, businesses in the defense industry must adhere to a wide range of standards. CMMC Level 2 requirements include:

  • Implementation of the 110 cybersecurity practices across 17 domains recommended by NIST SP 800-171, including Access Control, Incident Response, and System and Information Integrity.
  • Thorough documentation of CMMC Level 2 aligned policies and procedures to ensure that cybersecurity measures are consistently applied and managed.
  • Proactive planning to demonstrate the management of activities for implementing CMMC practices, including goals, objectives, project plans, and resourcing, to ensure a structured approach to maintaining cybersecurity defenses.
  • Adequate cybersecurity training to ensure that personnel are knowledgeable about cybersecurity best practices and the specific security requirements of the CUI they will be handling.
  • Regular assessments by both internal audits as well as C3PAOs to evaluate compliance with the required practices and processes and ensure that regulatory compliance standards are being upheld.
  • Continuous monitoring and improvement of cybersecurity practices and processes to address evolving threats and vulnerabilities, ensuring the ongoing protection of CUI.

How C3PAOs Help You Win DoD Contracts

Businesses in the defense industry require rigorous proof of their adherence to the CMMC 2.0 framework to be eligible to bid on DoD contracts. While they are expected to self-assess regularly to prove compliance, the DoD also requires a third-party assessor to provide an unbiased perspective.

However, performing official third-party CMMC assessments and recommending certifications to the CMMC Accreditation Body (CyberAB) is not all a C3PAO does.

Authorized C3PAOs can also perform a wide range of services for defense contractors to help them prepare for upcoming assessments and ensure continued compliance between assessments. Some offer guidance and support for proactive planning to help businesses improve their cybersecurity posture and bid for DoD contracts from a superior position.

For example, a C3PAO can offer DoD contractors consulting services such as:

  • Pre-Assessment Consultations to help contractors understand the CMMC process, the requirements of relevant CMMC levels, and the scope of the assessment process.
  • Gap Analyses to help contractors identify discrepancies between their current cybersecurity practices and the requirements of the specific CMMC levels they aim to achieve and provide recommendations for improvements.
  • Readiness Assessments that simulate the official CMMC assessment process and test a contractor’s preparedness for a formal CMMC evaluation, providing detailed feedback on their performance to aid in proactive planning for a real assessment.

While a C3PAO can offer cybersecurity consulting services and perform third-party CMMC assessments, to maintain impartiality and avoid a potential conflict of interest, the same C3PAO cannot both provide consulting services and perform CMMC assessments to the same organization, according to CyberAB’s official CMMC Assessment Process material as of July 2022.

Start Proactive Planning with Authorized C3PAO Services

Whether as third-party assessors or consultants, C3PAOs play an essential role in helping businesses in the defense industry maintain the high standards of cybersecurity they need to bid on and win DoD contracts. As an authorized C3PAO, Cask provides comprehensive cybersecurity consulting, cyber compliance, and CMMC assessment services to help businesses grow and become Acquisition, System, and Technology leaders in the federal defense contracting sector.

To tap into Cask’s vast CMMC expertise and overcome your unique challenges in the world of defense contracting, reach out to our advisors today:

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What is the role of a C3PAO in winning DoD contracts?

A C3PAO, or CMMC Third Party Assessment Organization, helps DoD contractors prove compliance with cybersecurity best practices and regulatory standards. By providing regular assessments, C3PAOs help contractors widen the range of contracts they can bid on and win.

What are the different levels of CMMC 2.0 and what do they entail?

CMMC 2.0 has three levels: Foundational (Level 1), Advanced (Level 2), and Expert (Level 3). Each level sets progressively higher standards for cybersecurity practices to protect different categories of sensitive data related to national defense.

What are the requirements for achieving CMMC Level 2 compliance?

CMMC Level 2 compliance requires implementing 110 cybersecurity practices across 17 domains, documenting policies and procedures, providing cybersecurity training, conducting regular assessments, and continuously improving cybersecurity practices to protect Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI).

How can C3PAOs help businesses in the defense industry prepare for CMMC assessments?

C3PAOs offer consulting services such as pre-assessment consultations, gap analyses, and readiness assessments to help businesses understand the CMMC process, identify areas for improvement, and simulate official assessments. C3PAOs play a crucial role in proactive planning for successful CMMC compliance.