This CIA Mission -- Better Contract-Workforce Management -- Isn't Classified

By Stephen Barr
Monday, June 11, 2007

The CIA is taking on a project that many federal agencies avoid: sorting out which jobs must be performed by government employees and which jobs are appropriate for contract workers.

Based on the findings of an internal task force, the CIA plans to shrink its contract workforce, tighten up contracting procedures and pay more attention to how it manages contract employees. Officials hope to wrap up their plan by July 1.

It is a sensitive, perhaps awkward, undertaking inside the CIA.

In a message last month to CIA employees about the contractor workforce, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the CIA director, said contractors play a vital role at the agency. "We do not simply appreciate their skill and expertise -- we rely on it," he wrote.

Michael J. Morell, the CIA associate deputy director, stressed in an interview last week that "in no way is this something negative about contractors." The contract staff is just as passionate about the CIA's mission as the career cadre, he said.

"Nothing we are doing here is about contractors. It is about us. It's about our management of them," Morell added.

Contractors hold a range of jobs -- secretaries, computer technicians, case officers -- here and abroad for the CIA. "We're talking about folks who drive into this compound and other CIA facilities every day, and who do work that is very similar to the work that our staff employees do," Morell said.

The contractors, many of whom have worked at the agency for years, go through the same security and background checks as regular CIA employees. Many are CIA retirees who hold clearances to handle classified information.

The contract workforce ballooned at the CIA after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The agency, which had been downsized during the 1990s, "had no choice but to meet our personnel needs by increasing our use of contractors," Morell said. Contract workers now make up about a third of the agency's workforce, he said.

Other parts of the government also have ramped up their use of contractors, creating what think tanks call the "multi-sector" or "blended" workforce.

Watchdog groups and some members of Congress are concerned that some agency workforces are out of balance, with contractors taking on work that should be performed only by regular government employees.

Ronald P. Sanders, personnel chief for Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, applauds the CIA initiative. "General Hayden is at the tip of the spear here," Sanders said. "He is going where we want the rest of the intelligence community to go."

Hayden's task force, led by Cynthia Erskine, a senior career official, outlined three broad goals for the CIA, Morell said.

The first involves a realignment of the workforce -- identifying jobs that should be done only by staff and jobs that can be performed by contractors or a mix of contractors and staff.

Once the jobs are sorted out, Morell said, the agency will have to figure out "a way to transition from where we are today to where we think we need to be." Based on current data, Morell said, the CIA probably can cut the number of contractors by 10 percent by October 2008.

The second goal focuses on taking a more agency-wide, efficient approach to contracting.

For example, Morell said, individual offices have been hiring contract secretaries, which are in short supply at the CIA. "And as a result, they have been bidding up the price of these secretaries, sometimes bidding for exactly the same secretary," he said.

The new approach will centralize management of contracts used to hire support staff and hopefully avoid such bidding wars.

The CIA also will create a monthly forum for in-depth reviews of contract performance. Program and contracting officials will not know when they are going to be called to appear, Morell said, "so you hope that's going to keep people on their toes in terms of management of contracts."

The third goal calls for better workforce management. Through procedural and administrative changes, the CIA is trying to discourage contractors from siphoning off CIA employees prior to their retirement and wants to encourage contractors to apply for staff jobs.

Morell said efforts are underway to streamline the process for converting contractors into staff employees. Recent data have shown that contractors cost more than staff employees, even when federal pension costs are taken into account.

Congress and the CIA inspector general have raised questions about the growth and use of contractors since Sept. 11, 2001, Morell said. But he said CIA leaders also had recognized that the agency needed a strategic approach -- "that we had a responsibility to manage contractors just as aggressively, just as well, as we managed staff employees."

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