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Private contractors hold lots of US intel jobs

    WASHINGTON — More than a quarter of the U.S. intelligence agencies’ employees are outside contractors, hired to fill in gaps in the military and civilian work force, according to a survey of the 16 intelligence agencies.
    That is roughly on par with last year’s total, the first year the national intelligence director’s office tried to count the outside help, Ronald Sanders, the intelligence director’s personnel policy chief, told reporters Wednesday.
    The number of government employees at U.S. intelligence agencies is classified, but Sanders confirmed it is more than 100,000. Contractors are not included in that total. Sanders said 27 percent of the total number of intelligence employees are contractors. With around 100,000 as a baseline, that translates to an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 private contractors working for agencies like the CIA and the National Security Agency.
    Of that number, 27 percent of the contractors engage in intelligence collection and operations, 19 percent conduct analysis and produce reports, and 22 percent work on information technology. Another 19 percent are in support and management positions, with a small number in research and development and other activities.
    In the survey, the agencies said more than half of the contractors were hired because of their unique capabilities. Ten percent were hired because they were more cost effective than civil servants. The remainder were hired on a temporary or project basis, many because the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan caused a spike in intelligence needs.
    The vast majority of the roughly 40,000 contractors are based in the Washington area.
    Congress required the report because of concern that spy agencies might be relying too heavily on outside contractors to conduct sensitive intelligence work.
    Like the U.S. military, intelligence agency payrolls were cut significantly in the 1990s.
    After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, there was a scramble to hire new analysts and case officers. By last year, the intelligence work force had grown by 20 percent to its current level of roughly 100,000, according to a 2007 congressional report.
    Congress is interested in the number of contractors and their functions, particularly those that carry out sensitive intelligence work like interrogations and analysis. CIA Director Michael Hayden told Congress in February that contractors have participated in the CIA’s harshest interrogations.
    The House passed legislation this month that would prohibit private contractors from detaining and interrogating prisoners or from participating in moving prisoners from one government’s control to another, a practice known as rendition. The Senate Intelligence Committee voted to bar the CIA from using contractors in interrogation, and the Senate Armed Services Committee has voted to ban them from military interrogations as well.
    Sanders said the average U.S. intelligence employee costs the government about $125,000 a year, including long-term benefits. The average contractor costs the U.S. government about $207,000 for labor, not including overhead.
    While more expensive day to day, contractors can be hired and fired more easily than government employees, and many have rare language or technical skills that government employees cannot match, Sanders said.
    Hayden announced in 2007 his intention to reduce the CIA’s reliance on outside contractors by 10 percent before the end of fiscal year 2008 on Sept. 30. Sanders said in some cases the CIA is hiring contractors away from their companies and into the agency work force.
    The intelligence agencies spent $43 billion last year. Sanders would not say what percentage went toward contractors.

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