Contractors Are Highly Valued Members of the National Security Team

By Farrell, Lawrence P. | National Defense, August 2013 | Go to article overview

Contractors Are Highly Valued Members of the National Security Team


Farrell, Lawrence P., National Defense


INDUSTRY COMMENTARY

Throughout the history of this nation, from the American Revolution to the war on terror, the private sector has provided the military necessary equipment and services.

In the period just after World War I, government turned on the industries that had supplied defense materiel, accusing them of excessive profits. The political environment then was so onerous that many companies withdrew from supplying the military. DuPont, for example, which had made most of the gunpowder supplied to the military in World War I, stopped its production and turned completely to commercial work.

The result of this political campaign against business was that when it came time to ramp up production before World War ΙΓ, the country was totally unprepared. There is a history lesson here that our elected officials seem to have to re-learn time and again: Government must have a partnership with industry to carry out its functions. That is as true today as it ever was.

The release of classified information by Edward Snowden on data-mining programs that support U.S. counterterrorism efforts has created a renewed call for reduction of contractors involved in sensitive government work. The implications are that they can't be trusted with the nation's secrets, and they cost too much. Neither of these assertions is accurate.

The assumption that the Snowden incident would not have occurred if his job had been done by a government employee, rather than a contractor, is simply unfounded. One only needs to look at the record to see that the most serious breaches of public trust were committed by public servants sworn to protect the nation.

America's worst espionage case was Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent assigned to counter-intelligence efforts against the Soviets. There have been others. Aldrich Ames was a career CIA employee, Robert Walker was a Navy chief warrant officer, Jonathan Pollard was a Navy intelligence analyst, Alger Hiss was a State Department employee, and of course Benedict Arnold, who became the synonym for a traitor, was an Army officer.

The nation trusted these men, and they betrayed that trust just as Snowden has. These betrayals are reflections on the character and ethics of the individual, not the organizations to which they belong.

Contractors with clearances are not as risky as the news media might lead one to believe. The Office of Personnel Management estimated that there are 4.9 million people with some level of clearance. Of these, only about 10 percent are contractors with the rest being government employees and active-duty military. Only one in three high-level clearances are held by contractors. With regard to conducting background checks necessary to be granted a clearance, 80 percent of these are performed by tractors. to the OPM inspector general, there have been only 20 prosecutions for fraudulent background checks, and about half of these have involved federal employees.

There is simply no evidence that contractor performance of background checks is any more risky or involves lower quality than those conducted by government employees. It should be clear that the growth in contractors within the intelligence community did not have any negative effects on security or produce greater risk.

The Snowden affair also increased the volume of the rhetoric comparing the differences in cost of a federal worker and a contracted employee. This is not a new issue. It has been thoroughly studied and reported over the past several decades by numerous government and private sector entities, and each of these studies arrives at a different conclusion, depending on how all the elements are considered and counted.

The Congressional Research Service stated in a July 2012 report, "Comparing the Compensation of Federal and Private-Sector Employees," that issues related to the compensation of federal employees often center on the "pay differential between federal workers and their private sector counterparts. …

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