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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Government Contractors and Security Clearances

In our chapter on bureaucracy, we note that the number of public employees is a poor measure of government activity because agencies contract out much of their work to the private sector.  The Huffington Post reports:
The U.S. government monitors threats to national security with the help of nearly 500,000 people like Edward Snowden – employees of private firms who have access to the government's most sensitive secrets.

When Snowden, an employee of one of those firms, Booz Allen Hamilton, revealed details of two National Security Agency surveillance programs, he spotlighted the risks of making so many employees of private contractors a key part of the U.S. intelligence apparatus. 
The ties between government and contract workers are so pervasive in Washington that those on each side are known by nicknames: Contractors are called "green badgers" for the color of their identification badges. Government workers, who sport blue, are known as "blue badgers."
Of the 4.9 million people with clearance to access "confidential and secret" government information, 1.1 million, or 21 percent, work for outside contractors, according to a report from Clapper's office. Of the 1.4 million who have the higher "top secret" access, 483,000, or 34 percent, work for contractors.
Because clearances can take months or even years to acquire, government contractors often recruit workers who already have them.