Spy Agencies Provide Faulty Contractor Data, GAO Says

Civilian U.S. intelligence agencies have provided unreliable and incomplete reports to Congress since 2011 on the use of private contractors who perform core functions, according to a new congressional audit.

The limitations “hinder the ability to determine the extent” to which eight agencies including the CIA use such outside workers and how much they spend to do so, the Government Accountability Office said in an audit released today.

Lawmakers said the report raises concerns about the security of intelligence information even though it doesn’t deal directly with that subject or with Edward Snowden, who disclosed thousands of pages of top-secret documents after working as a consultant for the military’s National Security Agency.

Congress needs reliable information “so we know exactly who is managing our nation’s secrets and why,” Senator Tom Carper, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in an e-mailed statement.

Carper, a Delaware Democrat, said the Office of the Director of National Intelligence “needs to review its policies and make the necessary changes to ensure it can account for its use of all contractors.”

Committee member Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said in an e-mailed statement that “without reliable data on the number and type of contractors or the expenses associated with them, we cannot effectively determine the appropriate mix of government employees and contractors in the intelligence community.”

Information Undermined

The civilian intelligence agencies covered in the report are the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and sections within the departments of Treasury, Justice, Energy, State and Homeland Security.

The GAO, the watchdog agency for Congress, said in the report to the Senate committee that intelligence agencies have taken “positive steps” to improve reliability of the annual reports on “core contractor personnel,” who provide services such as information technology and program management.

“Nevertheless, we identified several limitations,” including changing definitions of what constitutes a core contractor, inaccurate data, methodology flaws and poor documentation “that collectively undermines” the information, according to the report.

The GAO said the agencies haven’t fully disclosed these limitations, lessening the “usefulness of the information.”

Technical Advice

Core contractor personnel typically work alongside civilian or military employees, providing technical advice, intellectual expertise or administrative support. The contractors don’t make decisions on strategy or commitment of resources, and they also don’t perform common commercial jobs, such as janitorial or food services.

The report, an unclassified version of one sent to Congress in September, doesn’t disclose the numbers of such outside workers employed or the money spent on them.

The Senate Intelligence Committee said in its fiscal 2014 policy report that Snowden was a “core contractor” for the NSA, which “highlights the threat posed by insiders entrusted with access.”

The intelligence community “relies on a varied workforce” of civilians, uniformed military “and core contractors to perform its work,” the committee said.

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