Contractors Augment Intelligence Agencies

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By Robert O'Harrow Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 28, 2008

About a quarter of the nation's core intelligence workers are contractors, perhaps as many as 37,000 private employees who work side-by-side with civil servants as analysts, technology specialists and mission managers, according to a report about government outsourcing by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The vast majority of those private spies work in the Washington region. Many of them have been hired since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to augment what had been an intelligence community depleted by deep cuts in the 1990s, officials from the national intelligence office said yesterday. There are about 100,000 government intelligence workers, the officials said.

Contract workers each cost the government about $207,000 annually, compared with about $125,000 for a civilian government employee's salary and benefits, officials said.

The intelligence world rarely shares such fine-grained detail about national security activity usually blanketed in secrecy. Officials said yesterday that they did so as part of an annual survey begun last year to help assuage concerns among lawmakers and others about the surging use of relatively costly contract workers in recent years, oftentimes in jobs that once were reserved for government employees.

The proportion of contractor workers was essentially the same in last year's report.

"These figures are pretty stunning," said Tim Shorrock, author of "Spies For Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing." "It shows that private contractors are operating in the most sensitive areas of intelligence."

Intelligence contracting has become a growing source of revenue for businesses in the region. Over the past several years, big defense contractors have expanded divisions involved in providing intelligence consultants and services, while smaller businesses have flourished supplying classified consultants and technology support.

Ronald Sanders, the chief human capital officer at the national intelligence office, said his survey and the disclosure of unclassified findings will help improve the management of the contract workers, who have provided valuable service in recent years. Contractors have offered flexibility at a time of great need, he said.

"We need to manage this year in and year out," Sanders said of the contract workforce. "It's something we do owe the American taxpayer."

The survey examined the national intelligence program's use of "core contract personnel" who were involved in intelligence activities during fiscal 2007. It does not include such workers as food-service employees or contract guards.

It found that about 27 percent of the contract workers were involved in intelligence collection and operations. Just under a quarter were involved in information technology services. About one in five worked in analysis and production, and about the same proportion helped with administrative and support functions.

As for why contractors were hired, agency officials reported that they most often needed unique expertise that could not be found in the government.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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