NSA Plan May Face Political Hurdles

WASHINGTON (06/08/2000) - The U.S. National Security Agency's plan to hand over the bulk of its information technology support systems to industry may face hurdles on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have shown reluctance to approve large-scale outsourcing contracts that take away thousands of government jobs.

NSA's "Project Groundbreaker," officially announced Wednesday, has been designed to help the intelligence agency become more efficient by tapping into the technology expertise in the private sector.

The decision to move forward on the project comes six months after NSA's director, Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, received a scathing report from a group of NSA managers that depicted NSA as being mired in bureaucratic conflict, suffering from poor leadership and losing touch with the government clients it serves.

"In order to remain successful in our foreign signals intelligence and information assurance missions, we must immediately begin to invest in our IT infrastructure to secure NSA's agility and adaptability in the Information Age," Hayden said in a written statement. "It is critical that we have a robust and reliable infrastructure capable of supporting our missions."

However, sources on Capitol Hill and in industry expressed concern this week that NSA may not have prepared itself for the political battles that may come as a result of the thousands of government jobs that would be transferred to the private sector as a result of the 10-year, US$5 billion contract.

"I'm afraid NSA may not have covered all of its bases on the Hill," said an industry source who requested anonymity. NSA may be moving too fast on a contract that will require special attention be given to employee benefits, the reactions of federal unions and the impact the contract will have on small businesses, the source said.

Congress has already proven its desire to protect the jobs of federal employees by placing hurdles in the way of large outsourcing pacts, such as the Navy's 10-year, $16 billion Navy/Marine Corps Intranet proposal. The Navy plans to use the N/MCI contract to outsource its entire IT infrastructure to a single contractor.

One dissenter is Steven Aftergood, an intelligence specialist with the Federation of American Scientists. "I would expect the plan to be well-received in Congress," Aftergood said. "It demonstrates an awareness by NSA that the Agency needs a new way of doing business. And it may even save some money."

When asked how the effort might play out in Congress, a former NSA official said "probably badly and almost certainly not coherently or comprehensively."

"If government is not the solution, congressional committees are even less so," he said.

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