A Call for Consistency

October 2010
By Kent R. Schneider, SIGNAL Magazine

The intelligence community faces many challenges. Some are unique, but others are symptomatic of problems throughout government. These issues address the need for consistency and reason in intelligence as well as in government decision making. My examples all pertain to the U.S. government, but they can be applied equally to governments everywhere.

Recently, the Washington Post published an exposé of the intelligence community that described too much redundancy, too much waste, too much outsourcing to industry, and a failure to maintain the necessary in-house expertise to execute the range of assigned missions. A number of pundits and organizations criticized the Post for exaggeration or lack of balance. Unfortunately, the Post had it mostly right, given the limits of access to classified information. What was missing or incomplete in the newspaper’s analysis were the root causes of the current state of the intelligence community.

In the 1990s, the intelligence community was reduced in size and scope, and budgets were cut. Why? Because the Cold War was over and global threats were reduced, the decision makers thought. Because the United States lacked a compelling strategic view of intelligence going forward, short-term priorities to cut costs and reduce the perception of a bloated intelligence community prevailed.

Then came the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The decision makers wanted to know how the intelligence on the pending attacks escaped the intelligence community. The 9/11 Commission provided many findings and among them were conclusions that the community had insufficient analysis assets and that it did not share and compare enough of their input and analysis. In addition, a new layer of management was imposed through creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to help promote collaboration and coordination across the intelligence agencies. The intelligence community was told to fix the ills, close the identified gaps, increase analysis capability and capacity, promote intelligence sharing across the community and develop resources specific to this “new” terrorism threat.

The intelligence community did what it was told to do. It built the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; it built the Counterterrorism Center and other resources specific to the Global War on Terrorism; it began hiring and training new intelligence specialists, particularly analysts, and yes, it outsourced a good deal of the problem solving because there was a sense of urgency, and it takes a good deal of time to train new government employees. Intelligence agencies knew that industry housed extensive intelligence expertise, including many retired intelligence community employees. This was the only way to meet the timelines established by Congress and the administration.

Now, after the fact, the intelligence community is criticized because the community has some redundancy and because it has outsourced more work than seems appropriate. Let’s remember that it had to play catch-up because it was cut too much in the 1990s, and that it could get to these goals quickly only by leveraging industry. Let’s also remember that the community was directed to create some redundancy because Congress wanted collaboration and multiple eyes on intelligence input to avoid missing key data points. Let’s also keep in mind that industry is not the enemy—it is an important component of the national security team and is critically needed for its tremendous expertise. The intelligence community will come to a point where the proper mix of government and industry is reached if it is left to do its job and there are no additional major shifts in strategic direction.

There is a lot to be said for establishing a common strategic view and staying the course. Allowing short-term tactical priorities and political positions to deviate from the strategic view compromises national security and costs us, as a nation, a good deal more in the long run.

As I stated earlier, this issue certainly is not confined to the intelligence community. One could argue that the same approach has affected the government acquisition community, where lack of direction and indecision over the appropriate mix of government acquisition specialists and contract support has led to repeated recruiting and retraining requirements that have diluted government acquisition capability and created a markedly higher cost of acquisition.

The most recent example of this phenomenon is the announcements by Defense Secretary Robert Gates that government hiring will be frozen in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and defense agencies; defense contracting will be reduced by 10 percent per year for three years; and the U.S. Joint Forces Command, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration (ASD NII), the J-6 and the Business Transformation Agency will be disestablished. The organizations cited for elimination were established or reinforced because the Defense Department was not meeting the requirements of the DOD Reorganization Act of 1986 (Goldwater-Nichols) to promote joint operations, the Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996 (Clinger-Cohen), and shortfalls in improvement of the department’s business systems. The proposed changes appear to be driven by short-term cost-reduction objectives—and there is some debate about whether real cost savings will result.

Is this another case where the next administration or the next secretary of defense will reverse these decisions to address longer-term objectives, at even greater cost and loss of effectiveness than the original path? Congress and the administration should establish and maintain the strategic view and not compromise for political or short-term objectives at the expense of national security and long-term fiscal soundness.

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I absolutely agree with the author. The current situation, based on Secretary Gate's decision to cut the contractor workforce by 30 percent in 3 years is already having a large negative impact. Government agencies have bid to the lowest bidder, rather than retaining the few key assets that are core. In the short term, the contracts have been lowballed and the workforce has been "dumbed down". The loss of skills and services will have a greater cost to the government as it struggles to keep up with emerging countries and technology. Workers with 1/4 the years and skills are being brought on to replace the majority of those already in place. The result will include retraining and likely slower production as a result of the years of knowledge lost in this process.