Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper, nominated to serve as the nation's top spy, testifies July 20 during a Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
James Clapper Jr., President Obama's choice to become the nation's top spy, defended the intelligence community's use of contractors at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, but told lawmakers that "organizing principles" are needed on "where contractors are appropriate and where they are not."
Appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Clapper disputed some of the broad findings of a Washington Post series published this week that asserts the intelligence establishment has become increasingly bloated and reliant on private companies since the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
"I think there was some breathlessness and shrillness to it that I don't subscribe to," Clapper said.
Obama picked Clapper last month to become Director of National Intelligence, the person responsible for overseeing the nation's sprawling spy apparatus.
Clapper, who retired from a 32-year Air Force career as a lieutenant general, now serves as undersecretary of Defense for intelligence. Clapper also spent six years as a contractor after leaving active military service. If confirmed, Clapper would replace retired Adm. Dennis Blair, who resigned in May after about 16 months on the job.
Although lawmakers' questions were largely cordial, many mentioned the Post series, which is set to conclude Wednesday. Leading off was committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Ca., who cited the newspaper in asserting that contractors now make up between 28 to 30 percent of the total intelligence work force while carrying out "an ‘inherently governmental function' contrary to policies of the Office of Management and Budget."
Clapper, however, viewed the current situation as a predictable response to the downsizing that shrank the intelligence work force during the 1990s. Following the 2001 attacks, "we had to rejuvenate and to expand the intelligence community," he said. "The obvious way to do that and to do it quickly was through contractors." Also fostering more reliance on the private sector, he said, was the fact that much of the money came in supplemental appropriations and other funding outside the normal budget cycle, making it difficult to hire government employees.
"That's not to say it's all efficient," Clapper said. "It isn't. There is more work that needs to be done there."