The Intelligence Skills Gap: Building the Right Workforce to Meet Our Nation's Security Needs

Article excerpt

In the four years since 9/11, the federal government has undertaken a flurry of initiatives and reforms to strengthen our nation's defenses against terrorism. Particular attention has been given to one essential area where our security efforts are deficient: the recruitment, and engagement of skilled intelligence personnel. Despite multiple attempts to improve the intelligence workforce, including the establishment of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the passage of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, skills gaps persist in America's intelligence agencies. Much more must be done to ensure that we have the workforce we need to stop another 9/11-sized attack.

The Pre-9/11 Skills Gap

The independent investigations of intelligence performance after 9/11 found that many of the mistakes made in understanding the terrorist threat were due to systemic personnel failures. Agencies had no incentive to share critical information with each other and did not place workers with the proper training in appropriate jobs. Important intelligence languished in agencies unaware of its usefulness, and workers focused on administrative tasks rather than on collecting and analyzing significant information.

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The pre-9/11 intelligence workforce had two major problems:

* Managers were often ineffective, hindering the performance of the intelligence workforce. For example, in 1999 an internal Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) review found that 66 percent of the agency's analysts were unqualified for their positions. Supervisors assigned even the most experienced analysts to administrative tasks not suited to their strengths and often used them for case management instead of intelligence analysis. This treatment contributed to low employee satisfaction and a high turnover rate among analysts.

* Compounding the misuse of personnel was the length of time it took to hire new intelligence workers. A 1999 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report stated that the Department of Defense's (DoD's) security clearances were so rife with problems and inconsistencies that it represented a "systemic weakness." Given the extensive security checks needed for each intelligence hire, this clearance problem greatly impeded securing talented personnel.

The Push for Reform

A number of reforms initiated after 9/11--presidential directives, management changes, structural reorganization, and legislation--addressed the problems facing the intelligence workforce. The most far-reaching was the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which tackles human capital issues from various fronts and includes the following:

* To improve the quality of analysis and translation, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) is instructed to hire additional analysts and translators fluent in key cultures and languages, primarily native speakers.

* To promote a more cooperative intelligence culture, the FBI must establish an integrated workforce, including agents, analysts, linguists, and surveillance specialists, and train them in both criminal justice and intelligence matters. Advanced training programs must also be implemented, including rotations at other intelligence agencies for those at the senior levels.

* To help combat retirement issues and personnel shortages, the FBI is permitted to raise its retirement age to 65 for 50 employees each fiscal year through 2007 and can create a reserve service of 500 former employees.

* To streamline the hiring process and minimize the time required to hire new employees, security clearances for the federal government must be centralized and a national database should be created.

* To expand and improve the pool of job candidates for intelligence positions, the DNI must establish an education, recruitment, and training protocol for hiring new linguists. …