Rules stress interagency intelligence experience

FEDERAL WORKERS

November 11, 2005|By MELISSA HARRIS

Up-and-coming leaders in the intelligence community will be required to gain experience at multiple agencies before moving to executive positions under rules likely to be completed this year, said Ronald Sanders, chief human capital officer for the director of national intelligence.

Sanders said Congress included such requirements in last year's Intelligence Reform Act and ordered the policy's authors to use the military's joint-training model to guide its efforts.

He and James Bamford, author of two books on the National Security Agency, said that the intelligence community already "cross-trains" many high-level workers among its 15 agencies.

"It will make people more effective," Sanders said. "There has been a fair amount of movement between components already. ... But we'll make it more formal and outline more definitive road maps to show people how to get from where they are today to where they want to be in the future."

Bamford said that at the CIA, cross-training is "almost a requirement."

"In order to be promoted to the super grades at any intelligence agency, it's not always essential, but very important to have diverse agency and community backgrounds," he said.

Gregory Treverton, a senior policy analyst with the Rand Corp., said the policy was "smart, but not easy to do."

"At the National Security Agency, you have to know a lot about [communications] signals, and so it's hard to know a lot about [satellite] imagery, too," he said. "And particularly at these big intelligence agencies, they have an extraordinary stovepipe mentality," a reference to information being passed up the chain of command, but not to peers even within agencies.

For the military, however, "jointness" has become a part of the lexicon - think of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Maryland will soon experience a windfall of Defense Department jobs thanks to consolidation of military installations. The military also selects senior officers and civilians to attend war colleges to prepare them for higher posts.

"That would be a revolution for the intelligence community, but unlike the military, it doesn't necessarily have the spare manpower to do it," Treverton said. "In the military, people do disappear for a year to go to a war college, but if you disappear in the intelligence community for 30 minutes, you worry about somebody else taking your job. Cross-training requires a big culture change."

Treverton also said geography has a lot to do with an employee's willingness to volunteer for joint efforts or temporary assignments at other agencies. While serving as second-in-command at the U.S. National Intelligence Council, at Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in McLean, Va., he received few applicants from the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, but was overloaded with interest from the CIA.

"No one wanted to commute," he said. "Personal geography matters a lot. The only people we got from NSA were people who, for family reasons, lived closer to Washington."

Sanders said that it took the military years to accept the value of joint operations. He doesn't expect it to take as long for the intelligence community, but he said the requirements, first reported by trade publication govexec.com, will be phased in over time.

"We want people to know what the rules of the road are, and we don't want to demoralize or disenfranchise anybody," Sanders said. "We don't want to have a case where someone thought they were on the verge of becoming a leader, but now we say we've changed the landscape."

`Super court'

An association of senior agency executives at a House hearing Wednesday pushed for a "super court" to handle most employee appeals.

The proposal would merge three agencies: the Merit Systems Protection Board, which handles employee claims of unfair treatment; the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which handles discrimination complaints; and the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which handles disputes between agencies and unions.

U.S. Rep. Jon Porter, a Nevada Republican and chairman of the House subcommittee on the Federal Workforce and Agency Organization, spoke in favor of a merger.

"So many cases fall under two or more venues that the time it takes to receive a decision is slowed to an unacceptable pace," he said in his opening statement.

The committee's Web site lists two ways a merger could take place. The first would group the three executive-branch agencies into a new one. From there, appeals would go to a federal appeals court and to the U.S. Supreme Court. The second option would create a Federal Employees Appeal Court under Congress. The president would nominate judges, the Senate would approve them and the panel's decisions would be final.

Leaders of all three of the affected agencies, however, said that their functions did not overlap greatly - each handles a different part of the law.

Agency directors also cautioned Congress that if reducing the time it takes to process complaints is its goal, other methods would have more success. For instance, the process could be further streamlined and greater resources could be put into counseling, mediation and management training.

If a Federal Employees Appeal Court were to be created, it would "place all workplace disputes into a judicial forum - one that has the potential to become more legalistic, more expensive, more intimidating, and likely more time-consuming than the existing process," EEOC Chairwoman Cari Dominguez testified. "It may well have the effect of discouraging employees from seeking redress."

The writer can be reached at melissa.harris@baltsun.com or 410-715-2885. Recent back issues can be read at baltimoresun.com/federal.

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