ODNI defends contractor use

Contractors comprised 27 percent of the estimated 137,000 intelligence personnel funded by the National Intelligence Program in fiscal 2007. Although critics argue that might be too many contractors, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said the number is appropriate.

 The percentage comes from ODNI’s second annual inventory of core contract employees who work in the 16-agency intelligence community. ODNI made the results for fiscal 2007 public Aug. 27.

Members of Congress have been examining the extent of the intelligence community’s use of contractors for the past several years, concerned about the costs associated with the practice and the extent to which contractors engage in core intelligence collection and analysis activities. Versions of House and Senate measures that would authorize intelligence activities for fiscal 2009 include language that would require increased oversight of contractor use by the intelligence community.

After the Cold War, the size of the intelligence community was reduced. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, intelligence agencies hired contractors to rapidly beef up their ranks.

Evan Lesser, co-founder and director of ClearanceJobs.com, which posts jobs that require security clearances, said another factor contributing to the use of contractors is that federal employees with security clearances are retiring from the government and going to work for contractors.
ODNI said employees cost the government an average of $125,000 a year. Contractors cost more than $207,000 without overhead costs but give more flexibility.

Ronald Sanders, associate director of national intelligence for human capital, said the office conducted the annual surveys because of concerns expressed by Congress and ODNI and a desire to define the role and extent of contracting in the intelligence community.

He said that although no contractors were performing inherently governmental work as narrowly defined by an Office of Management and Budget circular, 27 percent of the contractors support intelligence collection and operations, 22 percent work in enterprise information technology. Since fiscal 2007, agencies have been exercising more flexibility in hiring practices, making it easier to take on intelligence officers as government employees, he added.

Tommy Ross, a staff member for Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security Subcommittee, said ODNI has been straightforward in dealing with the issue and is moving in the right direction. A longer and more intensive effort is necessary to get a handle on the problem, he said. 

Price has sponsored legislation that would place limitations on and increase oversight of the intelligence community’s use of contractors.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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