Speaking at the National Press Club at an event on privatization of Intelligence, former CIA director Michael Hayden and former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff defended the use of contractors as a means of filling in skill sets that might be lacking in-house.
"We viewed contractors as an integral part of our work force," said Hayden, and he decried the current attitude that contractors are by definition bad and in-house employees are good.
Chertoff noted that contractors fill a critical need when situations demand new skill sets that agencies don't have in-house, such as occurred after 9-11 when there was a need for speakers of the language spoken by Pashtun Afghans. Chertoff said that it doesn't make sense for the agency to bring people into career positions for skills that may only be needed for a specific period of time.
While defending the use of contractors, Hayden emphasized that the public perception that agencies use contractors for jobs they want to distance themselves from is wrong. "We do not go outside in order to deflect responsibility from ourselves, period," he said.
Hayden also took steps while heading the CIA to cut down on a practice where agents would quit to go work for a private contractor and sell their services back to the agency.
Taking a slightly different view was another member of the panel, Jack Devine, a 32 year CIA veteran. Devine, who noted that his own firm, Arkin Group, does no intelligence contract work, said that the use of contractors was not common in his day and "I must say, there's parts of it that make me uneasy."
He acknowledged the cause was probably that the agency had cut back budget and personnel levels by about 25 percent after the Cold War ended, which left it in a difficult position post-9-11.
To hear the entire discuss, go to C-Span's video of the event on privatization of U.S. intelligence.