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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Is the intell market out of control?

If you are in the government business, the Top Secret America series that the Washington Post has launched is a must read.

And don’t just rely on the printed newspaper; visit the Web page  where they have information on specific agencies, intelligence tasks and companies. For example, the Post has organized intelligence work into 23 activities. You can look and see which agencies and which companies are doing work in each category.

The series is what those of us in the media call service journalism. It isn’t following a breaking news story or providing analysis of a current event. Instead the Post put its research and reporting resources to work on a topic of public interest. These are the kinds of stories that the Washington Post has won Pulitzer Prizes for in the past.

It is too early to tell if this package will get journalism’s top prize. Winning often depends on the impact a story has. Will policies change because of it? Will the government take some sort of action in response to the series? Only time will tell.

On the second installment of the series (July 20), the Post will focus on government contractors serving the intelligence community. I’ll read that segment with great interest because, frankly, the Post has a mixed record in my mind of how it treats contractors. Too often it portrays the entire industry as corrupt and unethical because of the shortcomings of a few.

Installment one of the Top Secret America laid out well the information about the explosion of the intelligence community over the last nine years.

I’ll be curious to hear your reactions to the series.

As I read the first installment this morning, I couldn’t help but think about the budget and deficit problems we face. In many of my conversations with executives they’ve often pointed to the intelligence market as one well protected from budget cuts.

On one hand it is hard to argue that we do not need a strong intelligence capability. In many ways, our enemies are greater in number and sophistication than they were nine years ago. We face threats on multiple fronts.

But on the other hand, the Post article makes a convincing argument for better management of intelligence operations, and part of me wonders if budget cuts aren’t the best way to force intell agencies to operate more efficiently and effectively.

A move like that might not be good for the contractors supporting these agencies, but it might be good for the nation.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jul 19, 2010 at 9:03 AM


Reader Comments

Mon, Oct 11, 2010

I'm not really sure what the premise of the this entire series is. They don't come out and declare that this growth of the security sector is bad or good. Clearly the government ramped up activity significantly after 9/11 and engaged more Feds and Contractors alike. Rather than focusing on cost, it seems to me the conversation should turn to "value". What has the taxpayer gotten for this money and has too much of the work been outsourced? I'm not sure we have discovered the answer from this series.

Fri, Jul 23, 2010

The Washington Post article was uninformative to the industry that operates here in DC. We all know that Intel budgets have grown and that you need to have a TS clearance to keep doors open for future work. While I was in the military, just a couple of years ago, the intel products that reached the warfighter were useless. My wife (an intel person) tells me that the products weren’t meant for the warfighter and that if we wanted something we had to formulate our request properly and route it up the chain of command. That, of course, doesn’t help me when I am on the field and need info fast. Quality management of the intel community to serve specified users is necessary. Maybe it takes a poke in the eye from the WP to improve that management.

Fri, Jul 23, 2010 x-spook-geek dontask

It is clearly untrue that contractors deliver high value to the government. It is also untrue that federal employees deliver high value to the government. Poor management conquers all, and there is a great ammount of poor management in government. This is, IMO, related to government management ignoring law or policy direction from above and chasing pet projects instead. This results in increased duplication and redundancy as well. We desperately need a law to fire federal employees who ignore policy and law, and stiff enforcement.

Tue, Jul 20, 2010

I strongly disagree with the previous reader comment. There is really no basis to claim that contractors consistently provide more cost-effective solutions than in-house teams. And, unfortunately, the private sector's "innovation and agility" is too often focused on how to generate even more revenue rather than deliver better outcomes.

Tue, Jul 20, 2010

I agree with you about the need for better management 0f the Intelligence budget. I have a problem with the WP's conclusion that the contractors cost more than if the government does the work itself. It bases this totally on employee pay. It doesn't consider the contractor's ability to provide more cost-effective solutions on a total cost of ownership and operation basis. Nor does it consider that contractors provide expertise that the government doesn't have. And most important, private companies are a source of innovation and agility, which government bureaucracies can never match.

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