Outsourcing intelligence jobs

From a helicopter, a foreign navy operator inspects a cargo ship along the Lebanese coast.

TEXT OF STORY

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Ever since 9-11 the intelligence industry has felt understaffed. That's led to an employment boom in both the public and private sectors. The opportunities have been great for intelligence analysts but there's a catch. If candidates don't have "secret" or "top secret" security clearance employers aren't interested. Marketplace's Jeff Tyler reports.


JEFF TYLER: The market for intelligence professionals is tight enough to begin with.
RON SANDERS:"We compete for some of the most esoteric talent in the world."

That's Ron Sanders, with the office of the Director of National Intelligence. He says the Feds make matters worse by imposing misguided policies that force agencies to outsource.

SANDERS:"We've had to resort to contractors because limitations Congress has placed on the number of civilian employees we can hire."

That's good news for contractors, especially those who already have a high-level security clearance. In today's market, a 'Secret' or 'Top Secret' designation is worth money.

A recent intelligence industry survey found that . . .

EVAN LESSER:"Candidates are earning around 23 to 24 percent more per year than their equivalent non-cleared counterpart."

That's Evan Lesser, founder of ClearanceJobs.com. He says even the brightest candidates are at a disadvantage if they don't already have that clearance.

LESSER:"A lot of companies are more willing to train a candidate that has the correct clearance but the wrong skills, or inappropriate or insufficient skills, than to find someone who has the correct skills and wait the 18 months for a clearance for them."

Earlier this year, the number of clearance requests overwhelmed the Pentagon screening office, forcing it to suspend services briefly.

And the number of new applications for 'Top Secret' clearances has more than doubled in the past two years.

According to intelligence guru and former spy Robert Steele, companies not only siphon off talent from government, they fudge their qualifications.

ROBERT STEELE:"Contractors are being given contracts where they claim to have thousands of people with clearances and language skills that don't actually work for them. And then they turn around and hire away government employees for their clearances, or they provide people who don't speak the language properly, all in order to make a buck. That's simply wrong."

The situation isn't that out-of-control, says Michigan Representative Mike Rogers, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee.

He says Congressional oversight keeps the intelligence agencies in check.

MIKE ROGERS:"I think they're being fairly careful about trying to ply the right skill set with the right jobs, mainly because we've been aggressive in trying to watch them."

He's concerned about the trend in outsourcing intelligence jobs. And he recognizes the growing demand for intelligence professionals outside the government.

ROGERS: "And you have the incredible pressure from the private sector, who is basically saying, 'Listen. We're operating in a lot of dangerous countries. We'd like to have these people working for us, so that we know our employees are safe."

All that demand is driving up salaries. A recent survey shows that pay this year for the highest level security-clearance candidates rose five percent.

I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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