It seems every few years the Intelligence Community (IC) is called onto the carpet for how the cleared-contractor workforce is hired, utilized, supervised and engaged, and 2015 was no different. The recently released Congressional Research Service report on “The Intelligence Community and Its Use of Contractors: Congressional Oversight Issues” (18 August 2015 – pdf) notes in their conclusion how the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) will be challenged as they attempt to exercise oversight over the IC given, “the nature of the community’s work and activities.”

The report notes the IC leadership continues to be challenged in their efforts to monitor the work of their employees and contractors to ensure the contractor is NOT (emphasis ours) performing the work which should be accomplished by a government employee (unless circumstances provide for an exception).  The IC remains challenged in tracking the work of contractors vis-a-vis their functions, while maintaining the control over the mission and operations, especially when contractors are performing the most critical functions.

Executive Order 12333 (United States Intelligence Activities)

The EO 12333 explicitly states, three separate times, how the members of the IC, including the Department of Defense, may use contractors alongside employees, as necessary. This level of outsourcing, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law which is examining the IC with their “Rethinking Intelligence” project, notes in a January 2015 interview with DefenseOne how the IC has outsourced many of the secret national security and intelligence operations to private contractors, whose share of the IC budget has reached 70 percent. In 2013, the Washington Post noted that approximately 36% of the those who enjoy having a US Government security clearance are private contractors.

What do contractors do within the IC?

The CRS report outlines specific criteria where contractors may be used:

  •  “Immediate Surge: To provide surge support for a particular IC mission area. In this regard, the use of a contractor enables the IC element to rapidly expand to meet a mission or business exigency, and then curtail that contract support when the exigency passes. A surge requirement may be of extended duration.”
  •  “Discrete Non-Recurring Task: To accomplish a discrete, non recurring, or temporary project, work assignment, or task of definite or deliverable, such that the contract ends when the project, assignment, or task is completed.”
  •  “Unique Expertise: To provide unique technical, professional, managerial, or intellectual expertise to the IC element, where such expertise is not otherwise available from U.S. Government (USG) civilian or military personnel.”
  •  “Specified Service: To provide a specified service, including technical assistance, in support of a core mission or function, where that service is of indefinite quantity.”
  •  “Insufficient Staffing Resources: To perform work that would otherwise have been provided by a USG civilian given sufficient resources.”
  •  “Transfer of Institutional Knowledge: To maintain critical continuity or skills in support of a particular mission or functional area in the face of skills gaps, the loss (anticipated or otherwise) of mission-essential USG civilian or military personnel, or other similar exigency.”
  •  “More Efficient or Effective: To provide support or administrative services, where the provision of such services by contract personnel is determined to be effective or efficient.”

The ultimate challenge:

The ultimate challenge facing the IC is ensuring they have sufficient personnel with appropriate training and expertise to oversee the plethora of contract employees.  The oversight committees (SSCI and HPSCI) will be equally challenged in arming their staffers with the appropriate training and expertise to provide the required optic and perspective for the committee members to effectively perform their oversight duties.  The ultimate sentence of the CRS report rings solidly true: “The IC is a mix of classified and unclassified activities and materials, and it appears that the IC’s efforts to effectively manage its contractors and their employees largely take place outside of public view and may be classified. The initiatives described above may be useful resources, particularly for members of HPSCI and SSCI.”

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of