Counterterrorism agencies are shopping for talent at job fairs, dangling generous scholarships and luring staff from each other in a race to overcome a shortage of analysts that may only get worse in the new intelligence overhaul.
The problem existed even before Congress and the White House approved an intelligence restructuring this month that creates positions for people whose skills already are in high demand.
There is no consensus across the nation’s 15 intelligence agencies on where staffing needs are the most acute. But few dispute that many more analysts are needed, particularly in the departments and agencies created since September 11, 2001. The nearly two-year-old Homeland Security Department is a prime example.
“If you had a hundred, we’d take them,” Pat Hughes, the Homeland Security Department’s top intelligence official, said earlier this year. “We have to look, search, test, assess. You don’t just get analysts off a tree. … We need people, but we need good people.”
To find them, Homeland Security and other agencies are heading to job fairs, often looking near military bases, where civil service is part of the culture and people may have security clearances. They’re also trying to snag people from the private sector.
Congress also is offering sweeteners.
Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, created the intelligence community’s answer to the GI Bill and other military scholarships. Under the program, undergraduate and graduate students can receive up to $50,000 for two years of tuition if they agree to take needed jobs in an intelligence agency for up to three years.
This year, slots for 150 students were divided among the agencies, using $4 million from Congress. Some $6 million will be available next year.
Being an analyst is almost an academic profession — part taught, part absorbed, part intuition — that requires weighing volumes of information and boiling it down into reports for policy-makers in the executive branch and Congress.
Among the most-classified and most-important reports are national intelligence estimates, which draw on information across government and are written by leading analysts at the National Intelligence Council.
It was the council that produced the October 2002 estimate on the threat posed by Iraq, with its overblown assessment on weapons stockpiles.
Statistics on precisely how many analysts are needed are hard to come by. Almost universally, agencies say such numbers are classified.
President Bush ordered the CIA in November to double the number of analysts it employs. The agency won’t say how that equates to new jobs.
Beginning several years ago, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which studies imagery from spy satellites and other systems, started hiring about 900 analysts, spokesman David Burpee said. Most will join the agency between next year and 2009. In addition, the Defense Intelligence Agency plans to hire 1,000 midlevel to senior civilians next year, mostly analysts, in jobs with starting salaries between $53,000 and $74,000.