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12 April 2007

Industry’s “intelligence collection effort” targeting USG

“Industry hires our alumni, and runs an extensive and effective intelligence collection effort targeting us.”

The quote from Navy Secretary Donald Winter comes in the context of a different struggle by the government to come to terms with increasing privatization – one much further along in is transition of key roles to the private sector; and in which issues of control, expertise, and the effects of years of decreasing expenditures are much more evident.

Once upon a time, government contractors were praised for attempting to understand their key client organizations, and rewarded when they accumulated expertise and personnel which allowed them to rapidly and flexibly meet that client’s articulated (and even proactively anticipated) needs. Senior leadership tacitly expected to be able to find a comfortable post-retirement position within those contractor organizations, earning large salaries at less stress and risk. But at every level of government, contractors were considered second class members, there to provide a specific service but never “good enough” to truly belong – and as long as that remained the case, were kept almost as favoured pets.

Those days are long past, even if the illusions remain. The screams you hear are the realization that the old command and control model within the defense industrial economy – and its intelligence community counterparts – has been shattered forever.

The post 9/11 environment surges are most responsible for these changes, but they are rooted in the nearly intractable problems of systemic failure to invest in human capital, to motivate and reward individuals, and to face the current realities of life at the junior level in a major urban metro area.

Contractors perform almost every function conceivable within the community – and often far better than their government counterparts, based on the private sector’s ability to attract more qualified and experienced individuals at better pay and better quality of life. To be sure, not every shop actually does so – there are many stories of disillusioned contractors going back to the blue badge world. But when one looks at the next generation of analysts and collectors coming out of the university and out of their initial tours of military service, it is overwhelmingly contractors who are making the most attractive offers – not only financially, but in terms of sheer speed of the process and the quality of assignments. The idea of waiting nine to eighteen months for a position as a civil service employee, when one could have the same job – and the flexibility to quickly move to another in the field – is simply absurd. More and more, one looks around to see the best and the brightest of the up and coming are advancing in structures outside of the traditional community’s boundaries.

Current dysfunctions in the utilization of contractors, cited by SECNAV and others across the private military industry, are less a result of the shift of the command and control model to a privatized marketplace than the essential irrationality of that marketplace due to structural issues created by government decisions. Most are decisions which impose substantial burdens in the marketplace, enacted by those without any clear idea of how that marketplace operates and reacts. The clearance bottlenecks are but the most famous in the intelligence community, yet there are many others: issues of arming contractors in forward deployed areas, the ability of contractors to attend needed specific job related training available only through the major agencies (and usually offered only to their government employees), schizophrenic styles of contract award and re-compete cycles, and the increasing moral and operational impacts of efforts to segregate contractors from their identical government counterparts. These are issues caused by poor management (on both the government and contractors’ part), lack of coherent strategic vision, and the vast gulf of ignorance between competing community philosophies.

The SECNAV’s statement re-conceptualizing what have been long-standing efforts of the defense industry to understand its client, and communicate key decision support information to its senior management, are but the latest in a troubling trend. It is a line of thinking that seeks to assign blame for the end results of a series of specific choices to those that have apparently benefited from the outcomes, rather than those responsible for making the initial choices in privatization and contracting.

We have seen such thinking before, most notable in the ill fated “Intelligence Community Strategic Human Capital Plan” released under the previous DNI’s tenure, which sought to declare a “talent war” on contractors rather than facing the hard issues driving the comparative imbalance of contractor successes in recruiting key candidates.

To this “talent war”, the SECNAV now apparently wishes to add an “industry counterintelligence problem”.

It is a dangerous philosophy, and one that does not serve either the government or the intelligence industrial base. Taken to its logical progression, these concepts would lead to decisions which will inevitably destroy accumulated expertise, innovation, and professionalization in favor of politicization and deeper rice bowls.

These are troubling days. Let us hope that cooler and wiser heads will prevail.


For those that need additional reinforcement of the lessons of failure of centralized planning approaches versus marketplace realities, we note the following item from North Korea.

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