Thousands of intelligence personnel might be fired in the near future for failing to follow the US government’s vaccination mandate, prompting some Republican legislators to express reservations about eliminating staff from crucial national security institutions.
As of late October, some intelligence institutions had at least 20% of their employees unvaccinated, according to Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee. According to Stewart, certain agencies in the 18-member intelligence community had as much as 40% of their personnel unvaccinated, citing information supplied to the committee but not made public by the administration. Because full information on immunization rates is secret, he declined to name the agencies.
While many people will certainly be vaccinated before the administration’s Nov. 22 deadline for civilian workers, opposition to the order might result in the loss of some personnel at critical national security organizations. Due to the extremely specialized job they conduct and the difficulty of completing security clearance checks, intelligence personnel are particularly tough to replace.
Several requests for numbers for the intelligence community were turned down by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The administration also refused to explain what contingency measures are in place in the event that officers are fired for failing to follow the directive.
At a hearing last week, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines would to say how many people had been vaccinated, but said, “We are not anticipating that it will be an impediment for mission.” There are an estimated 100,000 employees in the intelligence community.
Stewart’s immunization rates are often greater than those of the general public in the United States. Around 70% of adults in the United States are completely vaccinated, and 80% have had at least one vaccination dose.
Stewart urged the government to provide additional medical, religious, and other exemptions, as well as to postpone any intelligence officer terminations.
“My question is, what impact will that have on national security?” Stewart remarked. “You may be terminating tens of thousands of employees on the same day. And it’s not like you can post an ad on Craigslist and get applications by Thursday.”
President Joe Biden has announced a number of regulations aimed at increasing vaccination rates in the United States, which affect federal employees, contractors, and health-care personnel. The White House claims that the regulations have increased vaccination rates and reduced mortality from a pandemic that has killed over 750,000 people in the United States and 5 million people globally.
The available vaccinations have been confirmed as safe by federal agencies and independent health experts. According to a recent research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unvaccinated persons were 10 times more likely than vaccinated people to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19 from April to July.
Mandates to be vaccinated have met with strong opposition, especially considering the already tight labor market. Vaccine requirements have been opposed by certain first responders and employee unions, who argue that mandates infringe on personal freedom.
Last Monday, CIA Director William Burns said that 97 percent of the agency’s officers have been vaccinated. More than 90% of the personnel at the National Reconnaissance Office, which runs US spy satellites, has been vaccinated.
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are sure that the vaccine mandate will not pose a threat to the intelligence sector. Rep. Jason Crow, a Democrat from Colorado, said the agencies were doing “pretty well” and that being vaccinated was a show of preparation.
“If someone isn’t willing to do what it takes to preserve their own health and the health of their unit, it puts into question their ability to execute their job successfully,” Crow said in an interview.
According to Stewart, the Biden administration classified information on each of the nation’s 18 intelligence organizations that it sent to the intelligence committee, and agencies more closely linked with the military tended to report lower vaccination rates.
When questioned by The Associated Press about their immunization rates, several significant organizations with large military components rejected, including the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which uses satellites and drones to gather data, said in a statement that it was “working to ensure that all members of the workforce understand the procedure and paperwork required” before the deadline.
Although Stewart, a veteran Air Force pilot, has been vaccinated, he believes requirements are obtrusive and ineffective.
“You get people to dig in their heels if you say, ‘You have to do this, and we won’t entertain any exceptions,’” he remarked.
In a meeting last week, Illinois Republican Rep. Darin LaHood echoed Stewart’s worries, telling agency executives that the issue of unvaccinated staff “affects all of you and us globally.”
Senator Mark Warner, D-Va., head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that mandatory vaccines for government employees is something he supports. “Every instrument at our disposal must be used to preserve lives and protect mission readiness,” Warner added.
Employees who haven’t been vaccinated or haven’t acquired an exemption by Nov. 22 risk a 14-day suspension, followed by possible firing. “Unique operational demands of agencies and circumstances affecting an individual employee may merit divergence from these standards if necessary,” according to the General Services Administration.
The vaccination requirement is still relatively new, according to Steve Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington, and he expects the figures to alter before the administration’s deadline.
“They’re going to have to show some flexibility around the margins without taking away the main strategy and aims,” Morrison said, as intelligence organizations increasingly interact with unvaccinated staff.
“Getting a significantly greater level of vaccination coverage in the United States is required to contain this epidemic,” Morrison said. “It’s a national security issue.”