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On an IC Board of Governors

While pulling diaper duty I listened to Gibson of Fox News rip Pillar a new one and lambaste his Federal Reserve idea. The angle was political, and the workability of such an approach may be debatable, but I think the larger issue of getting a handle on who works what for how long needs to be expanded.

There is a certain logic to the idea that if you leave the government with special knowledge and skills, you should be able to put that expertise to use. Really though, the discriminating factor between any random expert on subject X in academia and someone with the same expertise in the IC is the security clearance. It could very well be that a contractor hired to work mission X isn’t putting the best people on the job: just the people they can hire. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

To that end I think a certain amount of restraint should be applied to where and when former members of the IC can continue to work in the IC; and we should also start developing ways to expand who can contribute to our intelligence apparatus.

For one thing, there should be a governor on the revolving door. You should not walk out the door as an employee on Friday, and walk back in as a contractor on Monday (at a 25% or better pay hike) doing the same job. If you bail and come back, you should be restricted from working directly in your field for five years. This reduces the pure financial incentive that drives some to leave (no reason to pay you extra to do generic work) and it stops contractors from cannibalizing the offices they’re supposed to support. The only major drawback I can see is that it might further hamper personnel system reform efforts, which are desperately needed.

The restrictions on senior managers and executives should be particularly harsh. Nothing like watching an SES come back as a top exec for a contractor and then watch them lean on their former subordinates for business opportunities (whether they’re the best firm for the job or not). At a minimum they should be restricted from any business dealings with their old agencies for five years. Once unleashed they should be prevented from being involved in mission areas they previously led or worked in.

It may be impractical to clear a large number of academics or independent analysts (hell, it is impractical to clear the people that need to be cleared) but given that some estimates say 90% of what we need to know about a given topic is available in the unclassified realm, where is the harm in commissioning outside experts to develop their own NIEs? It would certainly expand the number of voices weighing in on issues of national importance, since the work is public it gives the public a better understanding of the issues and it’ll make everyone in the gov’t work harder to justify their positions.

I still think an IC board of governors idea is smart, though it shouldn’t consist of just top IC officials. Mixing it up with representatives from other parts of the national security apparatus (maybe use the critical infrastructure sectors as a model) would help ensure that the board isn’t just a bunch of good old boys perpetuating group think.

Thoughts, ideas, comments, smart remarks?

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji spent nearly 20 years in the US intelligence community. Trained in both SIGINT and HUMINT disciplines he has worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office. At various points in his career he served as an expert in information warfare, computer network operations, computer forensics, and indications and warning. A veteran of the US Army, Michael has served in both strategic and tactical assignments in the Pacific Theater, the Balkans, and the Middle East.