While security is always a key consideration in outsourcing efforts, it takes on added importance in the Defense Intelligence Agency's decision to hire private contractors to perform up to $1 billion's worth of intelligence chores such as data collection and analysis.
As might be expected, reports the Washington Post, the move is generating controversy.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, calls it "mind-blowing" and "definitely something to be concerned about." Her concern, says Schakowsky, is that these duties may be too sensitive to be performed by non-governmental personnel.
Earlier this year, Schakowsky co-sponsored an amendment to the 2008 intelligence bill that would require the Defense Department to compile and maintain a database of its intelligence-related contracts. (This seems like a good move, in light of the government's generally poor track record of data management.)
The DIA's decision follows the CIA's recent announcement, fueled by Congressional concerns, that it would reduce the number of private contractors it used. The CIA appears to be willing to try some pretty unusual ideas to cut down on contractors, including creating a social networking site for intelligence experts, reports vnunet.com.
The government appears to be gaining at least one key benefit of outsourcing, access to specialized expertise, with its intelligence outsourcing efforts. As the Post reports, it has struggled to keep up with demand for intelligence efforts during the war in Iraq.
It isn't, however, saving any money. The government's increasing willingness to use private contractors is leading staffers to leave the government's employ for the higher pay they can earn working for private firms. An estimate from an unnamed source, cited in the Post, is that it costs nearly twice as much a year to employ a private contractor ($250,000 ) vs. a government civilian worker ($126,500).
Abraxas, a company run by a former CIA case officer, has hired more than 100 former government intelligence employees over the last six years -- many of whom then were put to work as contractors on government accounts.