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ED/IES SBIR Program Fundamentals

The U.S. Department of Education deploys its SBIR program through the Institute of Education Services.

The U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program is administered by the Institute of Education Services (IES). The ED/IES SBIR program funds the research and development of Education Technology (EdTech) meant to enhance the learning experience for students from early education through secondary education and beyond.

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The U.S. Department of Education (ED) stands apart from most other federal agencies in shaping the country’s future. This is because the department has a direct line to how we shape the minds of our next generation—and every generation that follows. 

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program fosters advancements in education, inspiring and funding talented product developers in their mission to develop products that take instruction to the next level. 

Administered by the Institute of Education Services (IES), ED/IES SBIR is a small business cause unlike any other.

This article will tell you everything you need to know about the ED/IES SBIR program. 

What Does ED/IES SBIR Stand For?

ED/IES SBIR is shorthand for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), which is administered out of its research office, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).


What are the ED/IES SBIR Program Priorities?

Education is not a one-size-fits-all phenomenon. Instead, education must change and shift with the times while also being flexible to serve the needs of specific age groups and populations.

The ED/IES SBIR program accepts proposals for research and development (R&D) in three key areas.

  • Priority 1: Education technology products used by students or teachers (or other instructional personnel) in authentic education settings.
  • Priority 2: Education technology products for infants, toddlers, or students with disabilities. Also, teachers (or other instructional personnel, related service providers, or family members) in early intervention or unique education settings.
  • Priority 3: Education technology products used by school administrators. Or technologies designed for use in early intervention or special education settings

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What are the ED/IES SBIR Eligibility Requirements?

The eligibility requirements for entry into the ED/IES SBIR program follow the same path as the other federal agencies that offer SBIR programs.

To be eligible for ED/IES funding, the small business applicant must be a for-profit organization with no more than 500 employees and must be independently owned and operated in the U.S. by at least 51 percent US citizens or lawfully admitted residents.

Each small business that applies for SBIR funding through the ED/IES must also have a Principal Investigator (PI), who must be employed by the small business at least 51 percent of the time.

Throughout the project up until the award itself (and during the life-cycle of the award), the small business will be asked to verify its eligibility requirements.

Meanwhile, applicants are encouraged to collaborate with partners on their SBIR projects, including nonprofit firms and institutions.

These partners can receive up to one-third of the funds in Phase I of the SBIR program and one-half of the funds in Phase II. But remember: the small business must lead the project.

And one more wrinkle in ED/IES SBIR eligibility. 

The Education Department’s SBIR program also accepts proposals from small businesses owned in majority by multiple venture capital operating companies and hedge funds or private equity firms. And you can allocate up to 15 percent of your ED/IES SBIR annual budget to such companies. 

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ED/IES SBIR Program Structure

Like other SBIR programs across other federal agencies, the ED/IES SBIR program is broken into multiple phases. Each phase boasts its own requirements, benchmarks, purposes, and awards.

The ED/IES SBIR program includes three phases, the first two of which are supported by government funds and provide up to $1.25 million combined. The third phase is reserved for the private sector commercialization of education technology products.

Let’s go through the details of each phase!


ED/IES SBIR Phase I

The first phase is where the rubber meets the road.

This is where the primary R&D efforts commence, with government funds fueling your team’s efforts. Officially, Phase is meant to determine the scientific or technical merit of the ideas submitted under the ED/IES SBIR program.

  • How much is ED/IES SBIR Phase I Award?
    • ED/IES SBIR Phase I awards amount to $250,000.

  • How Long is ED/IES SBIR Phase 1?
    • The award period for Phase I is up to 8 months for rapid prototype development and evaluation of new education technology prototypes.

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A successful ED/IES SBIR Phase I project develops a functioning prototype of a new education technology project or service and determines the usability, initial feasibility, and promise of that prototype. 


ED/IES SBIR Phase II

The second phase bolsters the efforts that commenced in Phase I, continuing the R&D efforts and furthering your project’s viability in eventual commercialization.

  • How much is the ED/IES SBIR Phase II Award?
    • ED/IES Phase II awards amount to $1 million.

  • How Long is ED/IES SBIR Phase II?
    • The award period for Phase II is up to 2 years for the full-scale development and evaluation of new education technology products.

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A successful ED/IES SBIR Phase II project successfully develops a commercially viable product in the education technology sphere. It also demonstrates clear usability and feasibility of implementation in an educational setting, where it delivers on the promise to improve education in a classroom setting.

A successful Phase II project develops a commercialization plan for the project or service and develops strategies to evaluate its efficacy. 

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ED/IES SBIR Phase III

As with other federal agencies’ SBIR programs, Phase III is somewhat of a particular case. This final phase of the ED/IES SBIR program is set for private sector commercialization of the products developed in phases I and II with SBIR funds.

ED/IES does not provide funding for Phase III. Instead, it’s up to the small business to commercialize the products through other sources of financing, such as the private sector. 

What is the Executive Order 13329 on Encouraging Innovation in Manufacturing?

Executive Order 13329 was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2004. It officially defined the duties of all agencies and departments that participate in SBIR programs while also assigning the Small Business Administration (SBA) with its own set of responsibilities. It is meant to ensure that federal agencies continually assist the private sector in its manufacturing innovation efforts.

Dubbed “Encouraging Innovation in Manufacturing,” Executive Order 1339 underscored the importance of technological innovation in strengthening the manufacturing sector of the country’s economy. Under the executive order, the SBIR and STTR programs were lauded for stimulating the economy while recognizing that such programs have improved innovations in education, health and welfare, national defense, environmental efforts, and more. 

The ED/IES promotes and supports Executive Order 13329 by maintaining a notice on the ED SBIR site that describes the order and defines manufacturing-related projects in education. ED/IES also tracks projects and reports success stories to demonstrate the impact of the SBIR program. 

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How do I apply for an ED/IES SBIR Award?

To apply for an ED/IES SBIR award, you must first find out whether or not you’re eligible (see the “What are the ED/IES SBIR Eligibility Requirements?” section of this blog above). Once confirming your eligibility, it’s time to apply.

The next step in the application process is registering your small business on the SBIR/STTR Company Registry. This portal will open access to the SBIR.gov system, providing you with a unique control ID, which you will use for all your submissions. For more tips on the registration process, check out this guide published by America’s Seed Fund. 

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Who are the ED/IES SBIR Program Contacts?

There are two primary contacts for the ED/IES SBIR program. These contacts are:

Edward Metz, Ph.D.
ED/IES SBIR Program Manager
(202) 245-7550
Edward.Metz@ed.gov

Michael Leonard, Ph.D.
ED/IES SBIR Program Analyst
(202) 245-8133
Michael.Leonard@ed.gov

Technical Assistance Disclaimer

The ED/IES SBIR program personnel can address questions about the ED/IES SBIR program or provide technical assistance related to project ideas before releasing the annual solicitation. 

Following the FAR regulations, please note that when the annual solicitation is open, program personnel and other government officials are not permitted to provide technical assistance or respond to questions from individuals preparing proposals in response to the ED/IES SBIR program solicitation.

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What is ED/IES SBIR Program Solicitation?

ED/IES Program Solicitations refers to the open projects available through the SBIR program. To participate in the ED/IES SBIR program, you must respond to a funding solicitation from your target agency, as programs do not accept “unsolicited” proposals—or a proposal that does not address a current topic. 

Solicitations are also known as Request for Proposals (RFP), Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), or Broad Agency Announcement (BAA). Regardless of the name, the solicitation is the document that provides guidance and rules and regulations about how to prepare a proposal. Along with topic areas of interest, solicitation documents also include Proposal Preparation Instructions, Application and Submission guidance, and Evaluation criteria.

To browse open topics by agency, use this search tool developed by America’s Seed Fund.

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What is the ED Games Expo?

The ED Games Expo is an annual showcase of paradigm-shifting innovations in education technology (EdTech), all developed with the support of more than 30 programs at the education department and other federal agencies. 

The learning games and technologies featured at the expo are appropriate for children and students from early childhood to post-secondary education and special education. EdTech games and technologies touch on STEM, reading, civics, social studies, etc. The resources displayed are research-based, with studies demonstrating the usability, feasibility, and promise leading to intended outcomes.

Participants in the annual ED Games Expo include:

  • Educators and school decision-makers learn about education interventions and assessments.
  • Students demo learning games and EdTech and then ask experts pointed questions about the technology.
  • Developers, researchers, and stakeholders learn about the government programs that invest in new education technologies.
  • Government program representatives highlight the technologies developed through federal programs.

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Who has won ED/IES SBIR Phase II Awards?

Across all participating federal agencies, success stories abound in the world of SBIR programs. However, ED/IES SBIR Phase II award success stories take on a fundamentally special feeling, as the project’s success ultimately means success across an array of educational settings.

And while each project is unique, they all started as innovative ideas that eventually grew into commercially viable products that enhance education and address specific needs in various educational settings. The following ED/IES SBIR success stories are all currently in use by students and teachers.

Agile Mind, Inc.

Phase II Award: $750,000

A technology company that seeks to broaden student access, achievement, and persistence in mathematics and science courses, Agile Mind Inc., developed a comprehensive online instructional platform. The SBIR-funded project consists of 30 web-based, animated visualizations that support learning and help students understand various educational topics. The research consisted of a mixed-methods study completed with 19 teachers and more than 300 students in the 9th and 10th grades from eight schools in two states.

Zoo U

Phase II Award: $849,989

A web-based, social skills learning game for students in grades two through four, Zoo U simulates a school environment and helps students gain social and emotional skills through everyday scenarios, such as recess games and in-classroom group work. The game first establishes a baseline of six skills: impulse control, emotion regulation, empathy, communication, cooperation, and social initiation. Students then play in up to 30 scenarios to improve and reinforce those skills. After creating the prototype, the Zoo U team conducted usability tests with school personnel and students. Since its launch, Zoo U has been the subject of peer reviews and was even a finalist for the 2017 CASEL Design Award Challenge.

Schell Games' Happy Atoms

Phase II Award: $899,542

Developed by Schell Games, Happy Atoms is a physical molecular “ball and stick” modeling set that pairs with an interactive digital app. The game provides a modern alternative to the old-fashioned teaching methods about bonding. Students build atom models, then use the app to snap a photo and identify the molecule with proprietary vision-recognition algorithms. In the development of Happy Atoms, Schell Games partnered with the nonprofit research agency WestEd to assess the game’s usability, feasibility, and implementation. The game project has gone on to gain numerous awards and national recognition, with stories featured in Huffington Post, TIME, and more. 

Is it time to start your ED/IES SBIR program journey? We’re here to help. Reach out to Team 80 today.

Get A Free Consultation for Your ED/IES SBIR Accounting Services
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Team 80 CEO Sarah Sinicki

Sarah Sinicki

Team 80 CEO

Sarah is a leader focused on serving small businesses in various industries. She has worked with a multitude of companies over the last 25 years and loves helping business owners find success. Sarah is genuinely committed to unburdening Team 80 clients so that they have the freedom to focus on their business. In her free time, you can find her spending time with her husband, two kids, and her Yorkies, Marley and Ziggy. When she is not helping business owners, you can find her in a Reb3l Groove class dancing it out. Sarah is also an avid Colorado Avalanche fan, so if you ever want to talk about hockey, she’s your gal.


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Federal Grants, Contracts, or Funding: Preparing for a World of Government Compliance

The federal government has strict compliance requirements for any small business seeking contracts, grants, or funding. 

Government Compliance for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs consists of a challenging array of benchmarks. Aligning with these laws and regulations can help you secure government contracts, while failing to comply can lead to loss of funds and even stiff penalties.

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Securing a government contract isn’t easy.

It takes a dynamic combination of dedicated team members, work ethic, and perseverance to face the challenge head-on and come out on top. But skills and talent in your chosen field only get you so far—you must also possess the ability to thrive in the world of government compliance.

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs offer the opportunity for entrepreneurs to engage in federal research and development (R&D), with the potential for commercialization.

These highly competitive programs often result in multi-million dollar contracts or grants. Any participating small business will face a gauntlet of certifications, audits, and regulations.

It can be complicated and stressful—but Team 80 has the insight you need to confidently step into the government limelight. This blog runs down many of the government’s requirements in a handful of different contracting scenarios.

SBIR Certifications

First things first; let’s take the 30,000-foot view of certifications you’ll need for SBIR Phase I and Phase II.

Known as “Award and Life Cycle Submissions Certificants,” these benchmarks must be met to move forward in the SBIR process, no matter which government agency your project is intended for.

Phase I And II Award and Life Cycle Submissions Certifications include:

  • Principal Investigator’s (PI) primary employment: The PI must spend more than half of their time (based on a 40-hour workweek) as an employee of the awardee.
  • Essentially Equivalent Work: Cannot be funded by another federal agency. (Essentially, Equivalent Work is a significant point of compliance all on its own. More on it later in this article).
  • Phase II Mid-Effort Certification: Upon completion of the effort, the small business will have performed the required portion of the work.
  • Phase I and II Final Certification: Work is completed, and the small business has performed the required portion of the work.
  • Location of the Small Business: Any awarded R&D must be performed in the U.S.
  • Further Location-based certification: Performance is taking/has taken place at the small business’ facilities with the company’s employees.

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Preparing for Government Audits

There’s no two ways about it; the phrase “government audit” sounds terrifying. Conjuring images of federal agents rifling through your company’s most personal financial records, those words alone could cause entrepreneurs to balk at even entering into the SBIR process.

The old saying goes, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” However, with a few steps toward preparation, you can make the entire government auditing process smooth. Here are some tips to prepare for a successful SBIR government audit.

Outline any changes in these areas:

  • Management
  • Operations
  • Technology
  • Personnel
  • Industry developments
  • Accounting systems
  • Risk reports

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However, the government will likely deploy an array of compliance audits depending on the type of work you’ve conducted, which agency is awarded the funds, and other variables. So next, let’s look at some specific compliance audits and regulations.

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What is a Government Compliance Audit?

In short, a government compliance audit ensures your business is compliant with financial, technological, environmental, and safety regulations.Whether your SBIR project provides products or services, there are government-mandated rules that must be satisfied. These audits confirm a particular standard is being met—and it takes many files, documents, and internal processes to verify your compliance.

Federal compliance investigators will evaluate IT security issues, taxation, accounting standards, health and safety regulations, and environmental protection. These actions measure how your organization follows specific rules related to government regulatory requirements.

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Essentially Equivalent Work

When competing for an SBIR award, participants often submit duplicate or similar proposals to more than one federal agency when solicitation involves identical topics.

However, it’s unlawful for applicants to submit “Essentially Equivalent Work” and receive funding for that work from SBIR or other federal programs.

Essentially Equivalent Work is wholly prohibited.

  • It is unlawful to enter into multiple contracts or grants requiring essentially equivalent work. Therefore, SBIR/STTR awardees must certify at the time of proposal submission and during the lifecycle of the award that they do not have any essentially equivalent work funded by the federal government.

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But what is considered unlawful Essentially Equivalent Work? There are mainly two definitions that government compliance investigators follow:

  • Work that is substantially the same research, which is proposed for funding in more than one contract proposal or grant application submitted to the same federal agency or submitted to two or more different federal agencies for review and funding consideration.
  • Work where a specific research objective and the research design for accomplishing the goal are the same or closely related to another proposal or award, regardless of the funding source.

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The bottom line is, absent any specific authorization in writing from a government agency, it’s considered a type of fraud to accept payment from multiple agencies for the same, or essentially equivalent, work. 

Suppose you think you might have submitted similar work to another agency. In that case, it’s crucial that you immediately disclose any similar proposals or awards to your target federal agency. Applicants submitting multiple proposals describing duplicate or essentially equivalent work must include a statement in each submission indicating:

  • Name and address of each agency to which proposals were submitted or from which awards were received.
  • Date of proposal submission or date of the award.
  • Title, number, and date of solicitations under which each proposal was submitted or awards received.
  • Specific relevant research topics for each proposal submitted or award received.
  • Titles of research projects.
  • Name and title of the principal investigator or project manager for each proposal submitted or award received.

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And this is no empty threat. 

There have been numerous incidents involving Essentially Equivalent Work, with the government proceeding with legal actions against small businesses that knowingly received multiple monetary awards for duplicate work. 

One such incident involved a small business owner applying for funding from NASA for a proposal after receiving funding from the Air Force for the same proposal. 

The small business owner subcontracted out significant portions of the grants and contracts, violating the written terms. 

The owner pleaded guilty to mail fraud and tax evasion after an investigation and was sentenced to 12 months of home confinement and five years probation. He also had to pay $1.4 million in restitution to the government and received a five-year ban on receiving federal grants or contracts. 


What is CAS (Cost Accounting Standards)?

While accounting standards exist throughout multiple contracting sectors, government contracting exists in a world all its own. It’s so singular in form and function that government contracting has its own set of accounting standards.

Known as CAS (Cost Accounting Standards), this government-focused accounting compliance requirement consists of a set of 19 standards that are designed to achieve complete uniformity and consistency in cost accounting practices. Configured by the Cost Accounting Standards Board (CASB), these standards establish costs on negotiated acquisitions.

The 19 accounting standards of CAS are as follows:

  1. Consistency in Estimating, Accumulating and Reporting Cost
  2. Consistency in Allocating Costs Incurred for the Same Purpose
  3. Allocation of Home Office Expenses to Segments
  4. Capitalization of Tangible Assets
  5. Accounting for Unallowable Costs
  6. Cost Accounting Period
  7. Use of Standard Costs for Direct Material and Direct Labor
  8. Accounting for Costs of Compensated Personal Absence
  9. Depreciation of Tangible Capital Assets
  10. Allocation of Business Unit General and Administrative Expenses to Final Cost Objectives
  11. Accounting for Acquisition Costs of Material
  12. Composition and Measurement of Pension Costs
  13. Adjustment and Allocation of Pension Cost
  14. Cost of Money as an Element of the Cost of Facilities Capital
  15. Accounting for the Cost of Deferred Compensation
  16. Accounting for Insurance Cost
  17. Cost of Money as an Element of the Cost of Capital Assets Under Construction
  18. Allocation of Direct and Indirect Costs
  19. Accounting for Independent Research and Development Costs and Bid and Proposal Costs (IR&D and B&P)

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The main advantage of CAS is that it brings a level of consistency to accounting, with more accurate cost allocations and a higher degree of reliance on accounting systems. This reduces the risks of incorrect charging or the misallocation of funds. 

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What is FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulation)?

Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) is another set of government compliance standards focusing on how contractors can charge the government for specific contracts.

FAR is all about “allowability.” 

It states what you can charge to the government through a contract and what you cannot. FAR safeguards government contracts with consistent, uniform policies and procedures within the acquisition process. It’s a set of accounting standards that defines when costs can be recovered under a federal contract. 

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For the full scope of FAR, check out this page on Acquisition.gov.

Though FAR and CAS sound similar, remember this primary difference between the two:

  • FAR deals with the allocability and allowability of cost.
  • CAS deals with the allocability of costs.

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What is DCAA (Defense Contract Audit Agency)?

For the most part, federal agencies rely on the Defense Contract Auditing Agency (DCAA) to perform the in-depth auditing process of any small business conducting research for SBIR.

DCAA auditing components typically include a review of your company’s financial stability and your company’s overall accounting system. What’s more, DCAA also evaluates your proposed indirect rates and confirms your payroll tax deposits.

And although there are multiple pre-award and post-selection audits to contend with, here are three of the most crucial audits you’ll experience with DCAA.

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Accounting System Adequacy (SF 1408)
The government will need to evaluate the configuration of your accounting system to ensure you’re following the necessary guidelines. This audit is intended for contracts that include:

  • Cost-sharing
  • Cost reimbursement
  • Cost-plus incentive fee
  • Cost-plus award fee
  • Cost-plus fixed fee
  • Fixed-price

Real-Time Labor Evaluations (Floor Check)

In this audit, DCAA will gauge the integrity of your timekeeping system, measuring if it accurately states labor costs and adequately identifies the time allocated to that labor. In addition, since labor costs are billed directly to the government, federal auditors will check and re-check your timekeeping system to ensure it holds up to rigid standards. 

The “floor check” refers to the element of surprise inherent in real-time labor evaluations. This audit happens with no advanced warning and will consist of employee interviews and timesheet examinations. The unannounced nature of this type of audit means you should have your timesheets in order and properly vetted!

Incurred Cost Submission

Establishing the final annual indirect costs rate and determining over/under billing over a given period, Incurred Cost Submission includes direct and indirect costs incurred by the contractor during the fiscal year. 

The Allowable Cost and Payment clause FAR 52.216-7 states that “a contractor must submit an adequate final indirect cost rate proposal to the contracting officer and auditor within six months of the conclusion of each fiscal year.”

This type of audit is conducted so that the government can either accept the proposed contractor’s final indirect rates or make adjustments as needed before issuing the final payment.

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What is DFARS (Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement)?

For any organization to conduct business with the Department of Defense (DoD)—and other federal agencies—they must comply with stringent prerequisites. 

These rules and regulations limit who can access specific data, ensures participants have sufficient security education and training and protect the government’s investment with identity and access management (IAM) while also enlisting physical security safeguards in the workplace.

It all comes together in DFARS (Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement).

DFARS is a set of rules followed by the government to oversee the purchase of goods, services, and technology. 

The requirements and regulations that constitute DFARS guarantee the integrity of sensitive information—also known as Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI)—that belongs to the government. 

All applicants seeking contract work with the DoD and other federal agencies must be DFARS compliant. This goes for small businesses, as well as large defense contractors. There are 14 critical areas of DFARS compliance, and these are as follows:

  1. Audit and Accountability
  2. Awareness and Training
  3. Access Controls
  4. Incident Response
  5. Identification and Authentication
  6. Configuration Management
  7. Media Protection
  8. Maintenance
  9. Personnel Security
  10. Physical Protection
  11. Security Assessment
  12. Risk Assessment
  13. System and Information Integrity
  14. System and Communications Protection

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Becoming compliant with DFARS begins with a comprehensive security assessment. If you are contracting work with the DoD, you should create a compliance team to monitor CUI and identify sensitive information, security shortfalls, and improvements that can be implemented.

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How to Prepare for Government Compliance

Government compliance and federal audits are a necessary, if stressful, part of the government contracting process. 

 

Whether you’re an SBIR or STTR applicant, you must prepare your organization and team for the rigorous rules and regulations. So start by making government compliance a fundamental part of your daily operations. 

 

Team 80 can step in and handle ALL of your accounting processes, doing the work necessary to ensure you comply with all of the federal government’s many accounting requirements. So enlist us to keep your records in order while you and your team aim for that all-important federal funding.


Is it time to start your SBIR/STTR government compliance journey? We’re here to help. Reach out to Team 80 today.

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Get A Free Consultation for Your Government Compliance Accounting Services
Team 80 CEO Sarah Sinicki

Sarah Sinicki

Team 80 CEO

Sarah is a leader focused on serving small businesses in various industries. She has worked with a multitude of companies over the last 25 years and loves helping business owners find success. Sarah is genuinely committed to unburdening Team 80 clients so that they have the freedom to focus on their business. In her free time, you can find her spending time with her husband, two kids, and her Yorkies, Marley and Ziggy. When she is not helping business owners, you can find her in a Reb3l Groove class dancing it out. Sarah is also an avid Colorado Avalanche fan, so if you ever want to talk about hockey, she’s your gal.