Clapper tries to shield intelligence community workforce from sequestration

As the threat of a reignited sequestration nears, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said his first priority is protecting the intelligence workforce.

Since Congress first passed the Budget Control Act four years ago, the intelligence community has fallen victim to the lingering feeling of budget uncertainty, Clapper said Sept. 9 at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington sponsored by AFCEA and the Intelligence and National Security Alliance.

We are “living from year to year in this uncertain context, which makes planning very, very difficult,” Clapper said. “It has a huge impact on our most valuable asset, which is our workforce and that uncertainty … is having an impact on the workforce and that is evident in our latest IC Climate Survey.”

President Barack Obama’s requested about $63 billion for the intelligence community in fiscal 2015. The 2016 request stands at about $71 billion.

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That uncertainty comes as a stark contrast to the years following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when the intelligence community garnered unprecedented funds to combat global terrorism.

Clapper did not provide any specifics on how he planned on protecting the workforce, but said that he would be meeting with top budget officials later in the day to plot the fiscal 2017 budget.

The total number of employees who work for the IC is unclear. Both lawmakers and the Government Accountability Office haven’t released non-classified details. But over the last decade, the workforce — both federal employees and contractors — have seen significant increases. A recent Congressional Research Service report obtained by the Federation of American Scientists, said there are consistent questions about how these contractors are used and how many are employed by the IC.

IC officials have said over the past few years that the community needs to rebalance the workforce away from so many contractors, CRS reported. Researchers said the outcome of that 2014 effort is unknown.

Clapper’s comments come just as the Defense Department called for 25 percent cuts in its headquarters functions workforce in lieu of the previously mandated 20 percent cuts.

The Aug. 24 memo signed by Defense Secretary Ash Carter stated the department needs the savings to fund higher priority requirements.

The pressure for Congress to avoid sequestration mounts as the fiscal year draws to a close at the end of the month.

James Clapper
James Clapper

Congress has the option to pass a continuing resolution, which will fund the government at fiscal 2015 levels until a deal is struck, however, that would still be a losing scenario for the intelligence community and DoD.

DoD’s top acquisition officer Frank Kendall said during a Sept. 2 speech there wasn’t much of a difference for the department between sequestration and a continuing resolution.

Still, the prospects for avoiding at least a continuing resolution seem bleak, said Todd Harrison, a director of Defense Budget Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

“I’m not that optimistic that [Congress can] work out a deal even though both sides agree on a higher level of spending,” Harrison said in an interview on Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Security clearance reform within Intelligence Community

As a budget deal is duked out on the Hill, Clapper is battling for security clearance reform within the intelligence community.

“The system we have now doesn’t work and I think the only hope here, which is where we are going, is a system of continuous evaluation,” Clapper said.

As internal threats become more realistic because of the Internet, the intelligence community and Congress have pushed for better security clearance measures.

Continuous evaluation monitors employees constantly to detect suspicious behavior, as opposed to the current protocol of clearing an employee and then reviewing his behavior every five years or so, Clapper said. That process would be mostly automated unless a red flag arose.

Clapper said continuous evaluation would provide more mobility between intelligence community components and also between components and industry.

Clapper also said he has been on a “warpath” about reducing the number of clearances issued.

“There’s hundreds of thousands of cases of this where people don’t need the access,” he said. “That imposes a huge burden on the investigatory system.”

So far DoD has reduced the need for 600,000 to 700,000 clearance requirements, Clapper said.