The U.S. intelligence community can’t say for sure how many private contractors it employs or how much they cost the government, partly because the information is classified and partly because the 17 agencies that make up the intelligence community just don’t know.
And that just wasn’t good enough for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which grilled Stephanie O’Sullivan, deputy director of National Intelligence, Wednesday on why intelligence agencies can’t put a number and a cost to a critical component of its workforce.
“If the intelligence community can get past its initial learning curve in conducting these inventories, we’ll have what is a potentially very useful tool that can be used to help make better decisions about its entire workforce,” committee Chairman Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said. “These inventories can help the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the individual intelligence agencies identify where their critical skill gaps are [and] could also help identify where the government is paying too much for contractors, or where agencies could save money through strategic sourcing.”
But that’s a big if. The ODNI has been conducting annual inventories of the contractor workforce for the last seven years. And according to a recent study by the Government Accountability Office, the 17 agencies that make up the intelligence community have yet to provide an accurate accounting.
“The inventory [is like] a very large spreadsheet,” Timothy DiNapoli, director of acquisition and sourcing management at GAO, told the committee. But there are problems with the DNI’s spreadsheet, DiNapoli said.
“The inventory was not good. It has significant limitations as a tool for decisionmakers,” he said. “The information just wasn’t accurate.”
O’Sullivan said the intelligence community has made a concerted effort since its workforce surge in the aftermath of 9/11 to “rebalance” its workforce and reduce the number of contractors. But that rebalancing effort remains a work in progress.
“The 17 elements of the intelligence community are spread across 6 departments and two independent agencies. All of them have different systems and different resources subject to different authorities, policies and oversight,” O’Sullivan said. “There are also elements as mundane as how each element captures data and calculates their inventory. Some elements have automated systems, others compile their data manually.”
That’s a real problem for ranking member Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who also serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“If you have data that has big holes in it how do you know you did it right?” Coburn asked.
He cited GAO’s investigation that found in 81 out of 102 records reviewed by GAO, the contractors who filled those positions offered no unique expertise and contracting records showed no evidence that the functions performed by contractors required expertise that was not available in the government’s own ranks.
“Data is important,” Coburn said. “The fact is you can’t make great management decisions unless you have accurate data.”