The director of national intelligence on Monday forecast a “double-digit” reduction in the intelligence community’s multibillion budget over the next 10 years, and said that the government would try to find much of the savings by cutting back on contractors.

In proposing reductions in what is now an $80.1 billion annual budget, James R. Clapper Jr., director of national intelligence, said that he was going to try to “protect people” and that he hoped to find “one half the savings” by reducing overlap among the myriad computer systems now operated by the 16 intelligence agencies that make up the community.

(Melina Mara — The Washington Post)

Still, he said, the government’s effort to reduce the federal deficit would mean significant belt-tightening by intelligence officials.

Speaking at a symposium of the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation in San Antonio, Tex., Clapper said he had just delivered to the Office of Management and Budget a proposal that “calls for cuts in the double-digit range — with a B — over ten years.”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence was established in 2005 as part of the government’s post-Sept. 11 reforms to oversee the intelligence community. But critics have said that the office has not been given sufficient authority over budgets or personnel to enable the director to effectively coordinate the community’s activities.

In his remarks, Clapper said he believed the process of reducing the budget will be a “litmus test” for him and his office, but that the individual directors of intelligence agencies and program managers would be the key decisionmakers.

He also said the community had been “luxuriously funded” over the past decade, with the rapidly accelerated growth driven in part by contractors.

We were “not as disciplined as we should have been,” Clapper, former director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and undersecretary of defense for intelligence, told the audience, which included large numbers of contractors.

Assuring the audience that reductions would not be made by “salami slicing,” Clapper said that he and other community leaders had learned from the “peace dividend” reductions that followed the Cold War, when years of personnel drawdowns cut intelligence analysts by one-third, reduced human intelligence capabilities and allowed satellite and other overhead intercept capabilities to atrophy.

This time, he said, the plan was to continue new hiring, though at an “austere level”; protect research and development; invest in cyber, cryptanalysis and overhead architecture; and encourage more foreign language development.

Another area that will continue to expand is intelligence and surveillance via unmanned air vehicles. Clapper said that those systems had become “the coin of the realm” and “unlimited appetite” existed for them in other geographic areas outside Iraq and Afghanistan.