Role of Intelligence Community Contractors Questioned

Persistent questions about the U.S. intelligence community’s reliance on contractors to perform or support core mission functions were explored in a partially closed hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee last year.  A redacted transcript of the classified session of the hearing was included in a hearing volume which was recently published.

Among other things, “questions have been raised about whether some IC contracting firms hold undue influence within the IC because senior intelligence officials are often recruited from, and often return to, these firms,” according to a background paper prepared for the hearing (citing author Tim Shorrock) and included in the appendix to the PDF version of the new hearing volume.

“A ‘revolving door’ where employees move between public and private sector service increases the risk that decisions made by either contractor or government employees could be influenced by past professional relationships or potential future employment opportunities.”

“Some have also highlighted concerns about contractors who immediately return to their former IC agency [as private sector employees], but serve in the same capacity and at greater expense,” the background paper stated (citing reporting by Julie Tate of the Washington Post).

“In addition to clear conflicts of interest, the different incentives of corporations and their employees versus federal agencies and their employees create the need for robust oversight.  For example, the need to make corporate profits could create an incentive to provide analysis or decision support services in a manner that is likely to increase future business opportunities.”

“Additionally, because contract employees owe a duty of loyalty to their employers rather than the U.S. government, they may have incentives to act in the interest of their employers rather than in the interests of the government where those interests differ,” the background paper said.

At first glance, the questions seemed more interesting than the answers that intelligence community officials were able to provide at the hearing, but it was remarkable to see those questions raised at all.  The hearing was held not by the Senate Intelligence Committee, but by a subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chaired by retiring Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI).

See “Intelligence Community Contractors: Are We Striking the Right Balance,” September 20, 2011.

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