NSA cutting staff since Snowden’s disclosures

Joe Davidson
Columnist August 13, 2013

Edward Snowden fired a thunderbolt through top intelligence officials, and now he’s sending a jolt through his former colleagues on the job.

Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor whose revelations about massive government surveillance programs rocked the Obama administration, is at least partially responsible for the timing of a significant reduction in part of the agency’s workforce.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

Army Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the NSA’s director, told a cybersecurity conference at Fordham University in New York last week that almost the entire crew of 1,000 systems administrators at the agency is being cut.

“What we’re in the process of doing — not fast enough — is reducing our system administrators by about 90 percent,” he said in remarks reported by Reuters.

Many of those systems administrators are contractors, as Snowden was before he fled the United States and Booz Allen Hamilton fired him. Alexander wants to move more of the operation away from on-site computer servers to the online “cloud.”

“We’ve put people in the loop of transferring data, securing networks and doing things that machines are probably better at doing,” Alexander said.

The virtual cloud structure “is actually where we were trying to go,” he said. “That cuts down on the number of system administrators, allows them to do other functions . . . and it also addresses the number of system administrators you have.”

In other words, it cuts the chance for more Snowdens.

The NSA and the rest of the intelligence community “had been on this path for some time,” said Vanee Vines, an NSA spokeswoman. She acknowledged that “we have accelerated the timeline” since Snowden’s leak of secret information to The Washington Post and the Guardian in Britain. Vines had no information about what portion of the personnel action would hit contractors vs. agency employees or whether workers would be reassigned or lose their jobs.

The move, Alexander said, is designed “to make our networks more defensible and more secure.”

While “at the end of the day, it’s all about trust” in the people who carry out the agency’s mission, he made it clear that trust alone is not enough.

“Now, the intent of what we are now doing,” Alexander said, “is to try to come up with ways that limit what people can take, what data they have and how we monitor that.”

HUD cuts furloughs

Add the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the growing list of federal agencies that are reducing the number of furlough days for employees.

As we reported in the Federal Eye blog, HUD says the number of days will be reduced from seven to five. Recently, the Defense Department cut its number of furlough days from 11 to six, which was a reduction from 14 and, originally, as many as 22.

“When HUD announced its intent to impose up to seven furlough days to help close the budget gap caused by government-wide automatic spending cuts that took effect on March 1, 2013, senior leadership pledged to do everything possible to minimize the personal impact on HUD’s employees,” HUD Deputy Secretary Maurice Jones said. “I am pleased to announce that HUD is reducing the number of furlough days from seven to five, providing some relief to the approximately 9,000 employees who have endured five days of unpaid leave since May 24.”

J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the decision to reduce furlough days “is a victory for AFGE’s Council of HUD Locals, who never gave up the fight against the agency’s decision.”

“HUD’s agreement to eliminate two days of planned furloughs is an acknowledgment that the agency could no longer justify the destructive and unnecessary policy of throwing working- and middle-class employees out of work,” Cox said. “Eventually, agencies across government are coming around to the reality that furloughs are costly and counterproductive in terms of dollars, production, and morale.”

Last week, Eddie Eitches, president of AFGE Local Council 222, which represents HUD workers, sent a message to union members that said the labor organization was working with HUD officials in an effort to reduce the number of days of unpaid leave.

In a video message to HUD employees, Jones specifically acknowledged Eitches’s prodding to reduce the number of unpaid leave days.

“Eddie Eitches was in my office every day, giving me different suggestions, pieces of advice, pushing me to actually make sure that I get the furlough days down to the lowest number possible,” Jones said. “He came up with pretty creative stuff.”

Eitches said that “unlike DOD, this was not a top-down cut in furlough days but basically a negotiation” between the union and HUD leadership.

Big days for Berry

Former Office of Personnel Management director John Berry had two big days last week, one professional and one personal.

On Friday, he was sworn in as ambassador to Australia, apparently the first openly gay ambassador to a G-20 nation. The Group of 20 — 19 countries and the European Union — meets regularly to discuss international economic issues.

On Saturday, Berry married his longtime partner, Curtis Yee.

During the swearing-in ceremony, Berry said, “Australia may be our farthest diplomatic posting from Washington, but America has no closer ally or friend.” His top priorities will be deepening that strategic alliance and “fostering further growth in our trade and investment relationships and strengthening our cooperation in science and conservation,” he said.

That sounds like more fun than trying to fix OPM’s creaky retirement processing system.

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Previous columns by Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

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