But these days, it also functions as a recruitment space.
When the retirement program was conceived, fewer than 20 firms came to speak to the retiring classes about opportunities in the workforce outside the agency. Today, 40 to 50 companies vie to attend an agency-sponsored job fair held 10 times a year at the CIA’s retirement center in Reston. Major contractors — including SAIC, Booz Allen Hamilton and CACI — are regular participants.
One agency participant who interviewed with top defense contractors described the conversations as an exercise in figuring out whom he knew in the intelligence world.
“With a couple of firms, it was sort of a blatant, how-can-we-
exploit-your-Rolodex conversation,” said one former intelligence officer. The chief executive of the company he ended up working for told him: “We want to know how the intelligence world works and how we can provide services to them.”
At the agency, Director Leon Panetta has helped slow the exit of talent. But this year he has seen his top three leaders leave the agency. Collectively, they represented more than 75 years of institutional knowledge and operations talent.
One former official said the loss of so many insiders has taken a toll on those connected to the agency.
“Honestly, it’s painful to see, and it’s not in the national interest to see so many men and women at the peak of their experience walk out of the agency at the age of 52 or 53,” the former official said. “The agency would be well served to implement stronger incentives to encourage people to stay.”
Bob Wallace, a 32-year agency veteran who now runs Artemus Consulting Group in Herndon, suggested that the departures from the agency reflect more than the draw of a big salary outside government. Rather, he said, some veterans who have risen to the management level are leaving for a much more mundane reason: bureaucracy.
“People tire of meetings,” Wallace said. “Eventually, they decide they want to jump to the private sector so they can be back on the street again — doing what they love.”