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Security Workforce Worries

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By Joe Davidson
Friday, May 1, 2009

The national security workforce doesn't provide the security it should.

That is one message that emerged from yesterday's testimony before a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs subcommittee.

The problem is too few people with needed skills, too few qualified applicants to fill vacancies and too little training for those on the job.

"Trained professionals, not technologies, are the cornerstone of our efforts to keep Americans safe," said Bob Graham, a former senator from Florida who is chairman of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. "And as our technical and scientific workforce retires, and we are unable to replace highly skilled personnel, our agencies and departments will be stretched increasingly thin, which will create needless vulnerabilities."

The lack of people with the right skills can have serious consequences.

Graham said the United States was "so misserved in Iraq" in part because the American security workforce did not have enough speakers of local languages to confirm what turned out to be bogus information from exiles regarding weapons of mass destruction.

"We didn't have anybody who could come in behind that to do the verifications," Graham said in an interview after his testimony. "We went to war under false pretenses," but that could have been avoided with appropriately trained personnel, he added.

He urged the intelligence community to "streamline the hiring process, especially for applicants with critical language capabilities," meaning languages from the Middle East and Central Asia.

Graham and Thomas R. Pickering, a former undersecretary of state for political affairs and now a member of the Project on National Security Reform, pointed to the need for better training of national security civilians.

Military officers typically spend about 25 percent of their time in training, Graham said.

"Even the most qualified and dedicated nonmilitary national security professionals will not be sufficiently trained or educated and have the full career development opportunities of their military counterparts," Pickering said.

BACKING WHISTLEBLOWERS

A bipartisan group from the House wants President Obama to put the power of his administration behind whistleblowers.


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