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Intel Community’s Data on Contractors is Useless, says GAO

Published: February 19, 2014

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Lately there has been growing scrutiny and oversight by Congress and others of the use of contracted personnel in various positions within the U.S Intelligence Community (IC) – both over security and cost concerns. Now a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report casts doubt on the ICs ability to accurately report on the use and cost of core contractors across their agencies.

For those who may not follow this area regularly, eight of the seventeen federal agencies in the IC are civilian elements. These are:

  • Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI),
  • Central Intelligence Agency (CIA),
  • Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (DHS I&A),
  • Energy’s Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence (DOE IN),
  • State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (State INR),
  • Treasury’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (Treasury OIA),
  • Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration Office of National Security Intelligence (DEA NN), and
  • Justice’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Like other federal agencies, civilian IC members have long relied on contractors to support their missions. In fiscal year (FY) 2006, the IC Chief Human Capital Officer (CHCO) initiated efforts for the core contract personnel inventory to collect information from the IC elements on their use of these personnel and to report to Congress on the number of core contract personnel and their associated costs.

Core contract personnel typically work alongside government personnel, augment the government workforce, and perform internal staff-like duties. They differ from other contract personnel who produce commodities or provide widely available commercial services like building security.

Each year the IC CHCO conducts an annual inventory of core contract personnel that includes information on the number and costs of these personnel. However, GAO identified a number of limitations in the inventory that collectively limit the comparability, accuracy, and consistency of the information reported by the civilian IC elements as a whole.

When Data is Junk

GAO noted that the IC CHCO used this inventory information to report to Congress that from fiscal year 2009 to 2011, the number of core contract personnel for the civilian IC elements declined by approximately 30 percent.  However, GAO identified several issues that limit the comparability, accuracy, and consistency of the information reported by the civilian IC elements as a whole, including:

  • Changes to the definition of core contract personnel and data reliability;
  • Reported contract costs for the fiscal years 2010 and 2011 inventories were inaccurate or inconsistently determined;
  • IC elements calculated the number of core contract personnel FTEs differently, affecting the consistency of the information reported;
  • A lack of documentation limits the ability to validate the information reported; and
  • The IC CHCO did not clearly explain the effect of the limitations when reporting the information to Congress. 

GAO concluded that combined impact of these factors undermines the usefulness of the information to help determine the extent of civilian IC elements’ reliance on contractors. 

Translation: GAO thinks the data is garbage.

GAO is also concerned that the inventory provides limited insight into functions performed by contractors and reasons for their use. GAO found that limited progress has been made in developing policies and strategies on contractor use to mitigate associated risks and that the eight civilian IC elements have generally not developed strategic workforce plans that address contractor use vis-à-vis inherently governmental functions.

Recommendations

GAO recommended that IC CHCO take steps to improve the inventory data’s reliability and transparency, revise strategic workforce planning guidance, and develop ways to identify contracts for services that could affect the government’s decision-making authority.

  • To improve congressional oversight and civilian IC insights, the IC CHCO should:
    • Clearly specify limitations and significant methodological changes and their associated effects; and
    • Document methodologies for determining the number and costs of core contract personnel and the steps taken to ensure data accuracy and completeness.
  • To mitigate risks associated with the use of contractors, the DNI, DCIA, US Attorney General, and Secretaries of Energy and the Treasury should develop guidance that fully addresses OFPP requirements related to inherently governmental functions.
  • To improve the ability of the civilian IC elements to strategically plan, the IC CHCO should:
    • Require the IC elements to identify their appropriate workforce mix on a function-by-function basis;
    • Assess options to provide better insights into the functions performed by contractors when there are multiple services provided under a contract; and
    • Identify contracts within the inventory that include services that are critical or closely support inherently governmental functions.

Implications

First, the sky is not falling. Even in the wake of high-profile cases involving contracted personnel IC agencies will have a legitimate and sustained need for contracted support services, especially while policy guidance and inventory practices mature. Speaking of which, in addition to intel-specific functions, agencies will likely have a need for advisory services around these policy areas, risk mitigation, acquisition, workforce planning and strategic planning. There may even be some potential opportunities around related technology tools or system enhancements as agencies continue to strive to implement many of the management policies coming out of OMB.

One thing appears to be certain for the foreseeable future: the pendulum will continue to swing to the side of ongoing scrutiny on agencies to more effectively manage their contracted service inventories and on contractors who perform duties closely associated with core government mission activities.