Private contractors account for more than one-quarter of the core workforce at U.S. intelligence agencies, according to newly released government figures that underscore how much of the nation’s spying work has been outsourced since the Sept. 11 attacks.
The CIA and other spy agencies employ about 36,000 contractors in espionage-related jobs, in addition to approximately 100,000 full-time government workers, said Ronald Sanders, head of personnel for the U.S. intelligence community.
Contractors carry out missions including collecting intelligence in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as operating classified computer networks for the 16 spy agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community.
Sanders said the number of contractors remained steady over the last year, after surging in the years following the Sept. 11 attacks.
“As you may know, we’ve been hiring a great deal since Sept. 11, 2001,” Sanders said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday, discussing the results of a survey.
The growing reliance on contractors has been a source of controversy for the spy agencies, in part because of concerns that temporary employees might not be as trustworthy as career workers in handling some of the most sensitive national security work.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has criticized the CIA for using contractors in interrogations of terrorism suspects, and many lawmakers favor barring the agency from doing so.
The total budget for the nation’s spy agencies is roughly $43 billion. The use of contractors has been criticized for driving up costs, with senior U.S. intelligence officials acknowledging that talented employees have been lured away to take higher-paying positions with private companies.
Sanders said the spy agencies spend about $125,000 a year for a government employee, compared with about $207,000 for a contract worker. The numbers reflect salaries, retirement benefits and other costs.
But officials have said that contractors also help agencies control costs by enabling spy services to hire workers for short-term assignments.
Sanders said 27% of contractors were involved in intelligence collection and operations, 19% work in analysis jobs, and 22% manage computer networks or perform other information technology functions.
He said those figures did not include workers at companies that build spy satellites and computer equipment, cafeteria staffers or security guards.
If such “non-core” functions are counted, Sanders said, contractors would account for about 70% of the U.S. intelligence workforce.