Nominee to direct national intelligence likely to address expanding secret agencies
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
The Obama administration's nominee to be the next director of national intelligence is expected to face questions from Congress on Tuesday about the expansion of top-secret agencies and contracts, after reports in The Washington Post showing that these efforts have become "so unwieldy and so secretive" that effective oversight is impossible.
Retired Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr. is presently the undersecretary for intelligence at the Pentagon, where more than two-thirds of intelligence programs reside and where the explosion in contracting is prominent.
"We have seen a lot of disorganization in the intelligence community," said Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is holding Clapper's confirmation hearing. "We have seen questionable expenditures. . . . We need to bring back into the government all of the things that we can adequately staff."
Bond said such concerns are one reason the committee is pushing for an intelligence reauthorization bill that would establish legislative guidelines to enable Congress to strengthen its oversight of the community and its shadow workforce of contractors. Lawmakers are also expected to probe how Clapper views the director's role overseeing the 16-agency community.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the committee, has long been concerned about the growth of the contracting workforce and has raised it in previous confirmation hearings, including those for Dennis C. Blair, who was pushed out in May as director of national intelligence after a tenure blemished by intelligence agencies' failures to detect terrorist plots and political missteps.
A committee report accompanying the 2010 authorization bill noted the panel's concern about spy agencies' "increasing reliance upon contract personnel" and said that, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, they make up 29 percent of the agencies' total staffing. "The committee believes that this figure is substantially above what it should be," the report stated.
If the bill passes and President Obama signs it, it would be the first time in five years that the intelligence community would have an authorization bill to guide its programs and policies. The bill is being held up by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is insisting on expanded notification of covert intelligence programs beyond a handful of senior House and Senate members.
Some initiatives, called Special Access Programs, are so secret and compartmentalized that very few people in government have a full view of what they are. Many programs are carried out or have participation by contractors, who are not subject to the same oversight as government agencies and whose true costs to the taxpayer are often not transparent.
"There's only one entity in the entire universe that has visibility on all SAPs -- that's God," Clapper said in the first article in The Post's series, Top Secret America, published Monday.
In response to the series, the acting director of national intelligence, David C. Gompert, issued a statement Monday saying, "The reporting does not reflect the intelligence community we know." Said Gompert: "We work constantly to reduce inefficiencies and redundancies, while preserving a degree of intentional overlap among agencies to strengthen analysis, challenge conventional thinking and eliminate single points of failure. We are mindful of the size of our contractor ranks, but greatly value the critical flexibility and specialized skills they contribute to the mission."
His office also sent out seven pages of "Questions & Answers" on the-post 9/11 intelligence community and "Key Facts About Contractors" that spokeswoman Wendy Morigi said were an effort to address "a lot of the misperceptions around contractors."
The first item, or "myth," the fact sheet said, is that 70 percent of the U.S. intelligence budget is spent on contractors. The "reality" is that 70 percent of the budget is spent on "contracts," not contractors, it said. These contracts cover major acquisitions such as satellites and computer systems, as well as commercial activities, such as rent, food service and security, it said.