- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2006

U.S. spy agencies cannot retain the people they are recruiting and training for the toughest jobs of all: collecting human intelligence on al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Thomas Waters, a former CIA officer who was a member of the agency’s first post-September 11 training class, said the agency’s clandestine service — which recruits agents who spy for the United States — had special problems retaining those like him, who had joined midcareer.

“You start doing the math and thinking about when you’re going to retire, and you can’t get the numbers to add up,” he said, adding that he left the agency because he could not afford to stay there.

“You don’t want to end up working at Wal-Mart [after retirement] to put your kids through college,” said Mr. Waters, who has written a book about his experiences in CIA training called “Class 11.” He is now an intelligence contractor for the Department of Defense.

His observations echo concerns expressed in a recently released “five-year strategic human-capital plan” for all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies drawn up by the office of Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte.

“We find ourselves in a war for talent, often for the most arcane and esoteric of skills, sometimes between ourselves and/or with our own contractors,” the plan said.

“Confronted by arbitrary staffing ceilings and uncertain funding,” it continued, agencies “are left with no choice but to use contractors … only to find that … those same contractors recruit our own employees, already cleared and trained at government expense, and then ‘lease’ them back to us at considerably greater expense.”

The situation is complicated because intelligence agencies have tended to adopt a “grow our own” approach, the plan says, recruiting at entry level and nurturing talent through a 30-year career.

But U.S. intelligence “literally skipped a generation of new hires” during the 1990s, which means that the age and experience profile of the work force is “bimodal” — 40 percent hired since the September 11 attacks, and 20 percent becoming retirement eligible within the next five years — “two ‘humps’ with a deep and disturbing valley in between … with serious ramifications for our overall capacity and leadership succession.”

Moreover, the plan continues, “the career patterns of today’s new hires will not resemble this traditional model, and we must devise effective alternatives to this closed-system paradigm.”

The plan lays out several options, including boosting recruitment of exactly the kind of midcareer professional that Mr. Waters represents by adopting a banded pay system with more flexibility to lure outside talent and using a Senior Presidential Management Fellows program devised by the White House Office of Personnel Management.

“If necessary,” the plan concludes, the intelligence agencies will “design our own similar program.”

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