Federal intelligence workforce must shed jobs, experts say

Federal intelligence agencies must make targeted staff reductions and boost employee performance in response to declining budgets, according to a report released Tuesday.

In the report from the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, a task force of current and former members of the intelligence community, recommended significant but strategic cuts to the workforce and programs over the next five years. Staffing levels increased in the last decade and are unsustainable in the current fiscal environment, according to the report.

The intelligence community should prepare for workforce reductions over the next five years and begin to map attrition plans rather than reacting as budget cuts occur, the report said.

According to Joan Dempsey, senior vice president at consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton and former intelligence official at the Defense Department, the intelligence community should make personnel reductions based on preserving important capabilities rather than across-the-board staff cuts without cooperation among agencies. People are the most important resource as well as the most expensive, she said, noting that the intelligence community must determine its workforce needs and the associated costs.

Though the staffing levels must decline over the next decade, the intelligence community should continue to hire young employees, the report said. Agencies also must recruit, train and retain experienced analysts, the task force agreed.

According to Dempsey, the intelligence community saw a significant hiring increase in the last decade, and much of the current staff is now moving into supervisory positions. The dearth of experienced managers ahead of them has created a teaching gap, however, leaving many without on-the-job management training.

Intelligence agencies also should assess employees based on contributions to the organization, experts agreed, noting that managers currently are unable to ease poor performers out of the workforce. Measuring performance is a step to making targeted reductions, they said.

"Personnel laws are designed to be fair from an individual standpoint, not for improving performance in all cases," Dempsey said. "It's very hard in government today to differentiate between best performers and least performers."

INSA President Ellen McCarthy noted that a lack of training is a particular challenge in standing up a performance-based personnel system. "You are taught to do your job, but not be the future leader of others," McCarthy said. "We don't have a community that can manage itself. In budget-constrained times, other programs take priority over training."

According to the report, members of the task force also were reluctant to support a broad reorganization of the intelligence structure. Rather, agencies should improve management as it currently exists and build around future requirements. The intelligence community also should integrate with and better support law enforcement functions, particularly at the Homeland Security Department, Dempsey said.

"Fatigue has set in," said Dempsey. "There's a high price to pay for constant reorganization. If we were starting over, we would organize differently, but given the resources today there's not the appetite."

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