Working to ensure better assimilation of intelligence data

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In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Congress began the process of identifying structural, operational and cross-agency shortcomings that may have allowed the 9/11 hijackers to elude capture in the months leading up to the attack.

In 2004, this effort resulted in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, which mandated major structural reforms and created the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to mobilize a new, integrated workforce and eliminate barriers to collaboration. This wholesale reorganization has resulted in significant progress, but much work remains.

On a positive note, as acting DNI David Gompert recently reported, the Intelligence Community (IC) has been reformed in ways that have improved the quality, quantity, regularity, and speed of the IC’s support to policymakers, war fighters and homeland defenders. These successes are offset by significant challenges, however, and a recent Washington Post investigation highlights the problems confronting intelligence officials and policymakers.

Chief among these challenges is the need to assimilate an ever-growing amount of data — a veritable mountain of information — and the imperative to reform the size, scope and makeup of the intelligence workforce.

As our technological capabilities have grown and our human intelligence has expanded, the volume of information being pulled into the IC is greater than ever. While the ability to analyze and assimilate that data has also improved, I fear that it has not kept pace with the increase in raw data. The Post series has well chronicled the need to make sure we connect the ever-expanding number of dots; eliminating duplicative, repetitious or inconsequential “make-work” reporting is essential.

It is also widely understood that the increase in contractors was a direct response to the urgent need to protect our homeland from terrorist attacks after 9/11, but that their continued use — making up a reported 29 percent of intelligence agencies’ total staffing — is a leading concern for members of Congress within the Intelligence Committees. By design, some redundancy was built into the post-9/11 reforms to serve as a ‘double check’ to strengthen analysis and bring a myriad of ideas to the table to challenge conventional thinking. However, over the past several years, bipartisan concern has grown about our over-reliance on contractors, especially if the functions those contractors perform can be fulfilled in-house.  This overuse of contractors not only presents potential conflicts of interest, but it is also a waste of money, as these contractors often cost the government more than doing the job itself.

It is particularly disturbing that, at any given moment, the IC cannot report exactly how many contractors they’re using. Compounding the concern is that while the IC leadership tells us many contractors are performing “support” functions, the definition of “support” varies widely from agency to agency. This lack of consistency poses problems to accurately assessing the effectiveness of our IC, as well as identifying the capabilities we currently still need.

To rectify this problem, several provisions were included in the FY2010 Intelligence Authorization bill to address the size, scope and makeup of the workforce, and provide Congress with the level of detail necessary to drive needed change. For instance, the bill would require intelligence agencies to give Congress an accurate count of employees and ensure that work is not outsourced when it can be done more cost-effectively within the government.

The FY2010 Intelligence Authorization bill would also require a comprehensive report into contractor levels, policies and plans for each intelligence agency, in an effort to reduce redundancies and ensure consistency among agency practices and policies.

As The Post series has highlighted, Congress must continue its work to ensure better assimilation of the data the IC obtains, and that its agencies are appropriately staffed.  And while it does, I have every confidence that the hardworking and patriotic men and women of the IC will continue executing the missions they are tasked with — their quiet and frequent successes not appearing in print.

Rep. Schiff is the co-founder of the Democratic Study Group on National Security and a member of the House Appropriations Committee, the House Judiciary Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He represents California’s 29th Congressional District, which includes the communities of Alhambra, Altadena, Burbank, East Pasadena, East San Gabriel, Glendale, Monterey Park, Pasadena, San Gabriel, South Pasadena and Temple City.

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