A little more than a quarter of the United States' intelligence community is made up of core contractor personnel, according to inventory taken by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Dr. Ronald Sanders, associate director of national intelligence for human capital, told reporters in a conference call yesterday that 27 percent of the intelligence community are "core" contractors, meaning they augment the government's intelligence staffs." He said the ODNI arrived at that number by dividing the number of contractors into the total employee pool— the sum of all military, civilian, and contractors employed by the intelligence community.
According to his estimate, Sanders said the intelligence community has roughly 100,000 military and civilian employees. The Washington Post calculates from this admission that the intelligence community employs as many as 37,000 private contractors to bolster their intelligence capabilities, virtually unchanged from 2006.
Contractors, according to Sanders, became such a vital part of the intelligence community after 9-11 because of the downsizing that occurred across the sector during the 1990s. By hiring contractors, many of whom were former intelligence agents, the U.S. intelligence community was able to "expand very, very quickly by using contract personnel," said Sanders. "They were able to come in quickly and perform the mission even as we were busy recovering the IC’s military and civilian workforce."
Breaking down the contractor pool, Sanders said 27 percent of contractors perform intelligence collection and operations, 22 percent help run the intelligence community's computer systems, 19 percent support intelligence analysis and production, while the rest do other miscellaneous tasks such as administrative support.
Sanders said that about half of all contractors were hired because they had expertise that the intelligence community could not find in-house.
"Our agencies reported that of the total number of contract personnel, core contract personnel supporting the intelligence community, 56 percent of that total provided unique expertise, whether it was scientific and engineering expertise, foreign language, regional and cultural expertise, et cetera," he said. "This is expertise that we did not have resident within the intelligence community amongst our military and civilian personnel, or it’s so scarce or rare that we literally had to go out and find it and use and acquire it through contracts."
The price the government pays for contractors, however, is steep compared to government workers who perform the same tasks. On average, the intelligence community pays $207,000 a year for each contractor, while its own employees receive an average compensation of $125,000, including benefits.
Sanders also noted that 5 percent of all contractors hired were there to fulfill surge requirements. These contractors function as reserves who can fill employment gaps during the time it takes to hire and train civilians to assume those positions.
Speaking with the Post, Tim Shorrock, author of "Spies For Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing" said "These figures are pretty stunning. It shows that private contractors are operating in the most sensitive areas of intelligence."