Booz Allen Wolves Offer Advice on Protecting NSA Henhouse

In a eye-popping bit of irony — even by Washington standards — a report despairing over the federal government cyber-brain drain was written by Booz Allen Hamilton, the giant "Beltway Bandit" government contractor known for regularly raiding the best and brightest.

A view of the exterior of Booz Allen Hamilton headquarters, in McLean, Virginia

(This is an item from our new blog: Unofficial Sources.)

The report dutifully examines how hard it is for the federal government to hire and keep top cybersecurity talent when the private sector pays so much more.

Its very sensible recommendations include modernizing the creaky civil service hiring system and making compensation more competitive.

But in a eye-popping bit of irony — even by Washington standards — the report was written by Booz Allen Hamilton, the giant “Beltway Bandit” government contractor known for regularly raiding the National Security Agency and other government organizations for its best and brightest cyber talents, especially after they’ve gotten valuable government training and security clearances.

To its credit, the report forthrightly acknowledges the role that contractors play in denuding the civil service of cyber talent:

Government additionally competes with its own contractors—both private-sector companies and federally funded research and development centers—which can offer far more generous compensation packages. Contractors are not limited to the General Schedule when it comes to salaries. They can simply hire away the best cybersecurity talent and rent it back to the government at a higher hourly rate.

No kidding.

So how in the world did Booz, of all people, end up writing the report, which was co-published by the Partnership for Public Service, a do-gooder nonprofit that champions federal workers?

They volunteered. And covered the costs.

Could it be out of guilt? “I don’t know if it’s guilt or what,” Partnership president Max Stier said, rejecting the notion. “But it’s clearly helpful. What they’re trying to do is solve the problem.”

Stier’s theory is that “if everyone’s unhappy with government, they don’t want government doing anything” — and then there’s no work for government contractors.

If government does work better, he said, “in the long run, it’s good for them, it’s good for government, it’s good for everybody.”

Stier had particular praise for one of the report’s lead authors, Ron Sanders, a Booz vice president and longtime public servant who was the intelligence community’s first chief human capital officer until he left in 2010.

“He’s a phenomenal and well-informed person who’s seen what’s broken and knows how to fix it,” Stier said.

The release of the report was followed by a panel discussion on Tuesday. “NSA is really the poster child for many of the reforms we’ve advocated here,” Sanders said, according to an article by Jack Moore, who covers tech in the federal government for Nextgov.

NSA human resources technical director John Yelnosky said it’s particularly painful when people leave after they’ve undergone extensive, specialized NSA training, Moore reported.

“The competition out there is really fierce and particularly for these folks that we make a big investment in, and we feel those losses very keenly,” Yelnosky said.

Booz Allen, as the inside leaf of its report will tell you, “is headquartered in McLean, Virginia, employs approximately 25,000 people, and had revenue of $5.86 billion for the 12 months ended March 31, 2012.”

Booz was also the last place whistleblower Edward Snowden worked before leaking an archive of top-secret documents to journalists. Mike McConnell, a senior Booz executive and former NSA director, told the Wall Street Journal last year that Booz hired Snowden because the government had vetted him.

(Photo by Michael Reynolds/EPA/Landov)


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