Intelligence Budget Cuts To Hit Information Technology

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SAN ANTONIO – Fully one-half of the billion-dollar-plus budget cuts expected from the sprawling U.S. intelligence apparatus in the next 10 years should come from information technology functions, especially those outside the United States, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper said Oct. 17.

Clapper said other savings would come from reducing the number of contractors now supported by the U.S. intelligence budget.

In an address to the Geoint 2011 symposium here, Clapper said that while he is a firm believer in the value of commercial satellite imagery for U.S. intelligence agencies, the budget for these services is facing examination as well.

“We’ll continue to support commercial imagery,” he said. “The issue is: to what extent? Will we be able to support it as much as we have in the past? That remains to be seen.”

The advantage of commercial imagery lies in that, as unclassified data, it can be shared among coalition partners fighting alongside the United States.

The commercial imagery is generally of a lower ground resolution than the classified satellite data collected by the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. Clapper said he would like to avoid a wholesale reduction in classified satellite capacity and in the cadre of analysts that interpret the data.

In the 1990s, he said, the U.S. government cut too deeply into its teams of signals and image analysts and into the satellite assets they translate into usable information. As budget cuts are made, he said, he will fight to prevent wholesale reductions in U.S. national security satellites.

That was followed by a decade of what he called “luxurious” spending after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, which is now coming to an abrupt end as the U.S. government reduces spending.

“Today we handed in to OMB [the White House Office of Management and Budget] our homework,” Clapper said. “It’s double-digit cuts — with a ‘B’ — over 10 years. We’ve had 10 years of growth. Every year all we had to do was hand out more money and more people. Now we’re going to be in a different mode.”

Clapper said a review of the 2012 U.S. intelligence budget found that upward of 25 percent of it is for functions broadly labeled “information technology.”

Developing a single information technology architecture across the different intelligence agencies, and pushing through other economies in this area, should yield one-half of the expected budget savings, he said. Overseas information technology offices are prime candidates for reductions, he said.

“We have been rather luxuriously funded in the last 10 years,” he said. “We rapidly expanded the work force. In retrospect, we weren’t as disciplined as we might have been.”

Clapper said the demand for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data is unlikely to diminish in the coming years even with the reduced military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“There is an unlimited appetite for it,” he said. “This is not going to stop as we phase down in Iraq and Afghanistan. Other commands have huge pent-up demand.”

One area that Clapper said should be expanded is cyber intelligence to protect against cyber attacks.