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Sequester will weaken intel capabilities, Clapper says

Apr. 8, 2013 - 04:09PM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the intelligence community may have to furlough employees, though no decision has been made. Intelligence officials are still studying the continuing resolution Congress passed last month to see whether furloughs are necessary
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the intelligence community may have to furlough employees, though no decision has been made. Intelligence officials are still studying the continuing resolution Congress passed last month to see whether furloughs are necessary (Karen Bleier / AFP via Getty Images)

The nation’s top spymaster fears sequester budget cuts could have an “insidious” effect on the nation’s intelligence collecting and processing.

“We’re cutting real capability and accepting greater risk,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a briefing with reporters April 5.

“For intelligence, this is not quite like shorter hours at the public parks or longer lines at the airports. A capability we cut out today, you won’t know about that. You’ll notice it when we have a failure, and then we’ll go back and investigate it.”

Clapper said the intelligence community may have to furlough employees, though no decision has been made. Intelligence officials are still studying the continuing resolution Congress passed last month — which gave Defense Department agencies more flexibility to move money around to mitigate the sequester’s effects — to see whether furloughs are necessary. Clapper would not say which employees might be furloughed, or for how many days, if furloughs are required.

And as the nation enters another era of budget cuts, Clapper said he doesn’t want to repeat mistakes made in the post-Cold War period, when the government slashed the intelligence community.

“I’ve seen this movie before,” Clapper said. “In the mid- to late ’90s, we cut the intelligence community [personnel] by somewhere in the neighborhood of 23 percent. We closed CIA stations overseas, we cut human intelligence, we let our overhead reconnaissance architecture atrophy … and most painfully, we allowed the workforce to be distorted.”

Clapper said the intelligence community froze most hiring when it became obvious that budget cuts were coming. But intelligence agencies are allowed to hire new employees to fill crucial jobs and make sure the intelligence workforce doesn’t develop severe skills gaps.

“We didn’t do that in the ’90s, and that’s not a good thing,” Clapper said. Clapper would not say what types of jobs are still being filled.

The intelligence community barely avoided having to lay off employees in the 1990s, Clapper said. He said he will do whatever he can to avoid reductions-in-force during this round of budget cuts. But he said he could not be sure RIFs can be avoided if steep budget cuts continue.

“If we have to do sequestration for another year, we’ll have to see,” Clapper said.

Clapper said employees’ morale remains high, but he and other officials are closely watching retention rates. He fears the sequester, furloughs and ongoing pay freezes will eventually hurt the intelligence community’s ability to recruit top talent.

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