Intel hearing focuses on contractors

By HEATHER SOMERVILLE, MEDILL NEWS SERVICE, Written for UPI  |  July 21, 2010 at 8:12 AM
share with facebook
share with twitter
1 of 2
| License Photo

WASHINGTON, July 21 (UPI) -- The man chosen to be the nation's next chief of intelligence rejected allegations that national security agencies had gone out of control hiring expensive private contractors to do the government's work.

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper, U.S. President Barack Obama's nominee for director of national intelligence, testified Tuesday before the U.S. Senate Committee on Intelligence, whose members asked him about this week's Washington Post investigation into the intelligence community. The Post story alleges waste, mismanagement and the overuse of private contractors in the U.S. intelligence community.

"You have entered into the most deadly minefield in Washington D.C.," U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, D-Mo., cautioned Clapper.

Clapper rebuffed the Post's claims, saying budget restrictions imposed limits on private contracting at intelligence agencies.

"I believe that it is under control," Clapper said. "The intelligence community can do many things but printing more money is not one of those things."

National security spending has risen to such levels that U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently called it a "gusher," but funding is guaranteed only one year at a time, which makes hiring full-time government employees difficult, Clapper said. There is a demand for more people to move more top-secret information but not enough long-term funding.

"So the obvious outlet for that has been the growth of contractors," Clapper said.

The Post investigation, revealed in a front-page series that ran Monday-Wednesday, claims private contractors are hired for every conceivable job in intelligence and occupy almost 30 percent of the intelligence workforce and almost half the total personnel budget.

Senate Committee on Intelligence chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called for a 10 percent reduction in one year in private contractors for the director of national intelligence, although she acknowledged, "I don't know that that's quite achievable."

The Senate committee issued a report last year that called for the reduction in contractors, based on a 2008 case study by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that found contractors were being used in jobs that could be successfully done by government employees for less money.

Clapper he supported a reduction in private contractors for intelligence work but declined to set a specific goal. Clapper spent six years as a private contractor for government intelligence after he retired from the Air Force.

Senate committee members were to have a closed session Wednesday to finish questioning but indicated they would easily approve Clapper's nomination, which will then go to the full Senate for confirmation.

As director of national intelligence, Clapper would oversee the office in charge of coordinating 16 different intelligence agencies.

Clapper will need more authority than allowed previous directors to get the job done, senators said.

"We need someone who can throw elbows," Bond said.

Clapper, who serves as undersecretary of defense for intelligence, would be the fourth director of intelligence since the position was created five years ago. Former intelligence director retired U.S. Navy Adm. Dennis Blair reportedly resigned because of frustrations over a lack of authority to coordinate intelligence activities across several departments.

The national intelligence director "is operating at the 50,000-foot level, making sure everyone has the resources needed," said Mark Lowenthal, president of the Intelligence and Security Academy in Washington and a former intelligence analyst for the State Department and CIA. "The problem is that the DNI has very little enforcement mechanism."

The director of national intelligence has limited authority over to coordinate the activities of other intelligence agencies, said Tim Shorrock, an author and expert on government outsourcing and contracts. The law that created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in 2004 included, at the behest of Vice President Dick Cheney, a last-minute provision that designates much of the intelligence authority to the Department of Defense.

The Pentagon commands much of the nation's intelligence activity and the intelligence director has limited influence over issues like contracting, Shorrock said.

"It brings a lot of friction and I'm not sure it adds a great deal of quality to the intelligence the government has created," added Gabriel Schoenfeld, a national security senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

Any change in restructuring the chain of command, though, won't come at Clapper's initiative. When pressed by senators about the ambiguity in the law, Clapper said he preferred to work within the authority previous intelligence directors had.

"I am in the mode of making the model that we have work, rather than going through the trauma of yet another reorganization," Clapper said.

Related UPI Stories
Latest Headlines
Trending Stories