Defense must ramp up recruitment of IT acquisition workforce, consultant says

Internal briefing also recommends an exchange program between department and industry for information technology professionals.

The Defense Department should create an incentive program to lure information technology acquisition professionals from industry and establish a defined career path for them, according to an internal briefing on necessary improvements to the Defense IT acquisition workforce.

The briefing by Thomas Hickok, a consultant to the Defense Chief Information Officer, said the Pentagon also should establish critical positions in all IT disciplines throughout the military departments and agencies and target superior program and project managers for recruitment. He also suggested Defense creates an exchange program with industry for IT professionals.

The department budgeted $68.9 billion for IT spending in 2010, but the Defense Science Board noted in a March 2009 report that "IT expertise is scarce and the competition for talent is increasing." That report also stated the Pentagon and the military services need IT acquisition staff with extensive experience in large-scale, embedded and commercial IT.

In addition, the House Armed Services Committee called for a beefed up and more skilled IT workforce in its March report on Defense acquisition reform and said the Pentagon should "develop a plan for how to strengthen the IT acquisition workforce as it increases the size of the overall acquisition workforce in the coming years."

The 2010 Defense Authorization Act in a section on IT acquisition called on the Pentagon to develop an acquisition process for IT systems based on the Defense Science Board report and directed the process be outlined in a report due this past July. That report has not been submitted yet, but the Hickok briefing is a draft of the language Defense plans to present in its report to Congress. The Pentagon did not respond to queries on the status of the report and plans for the IT acquisition workforce.

Trey Hodgkins, vice president for national security and procurement policy for the IT industry association TechAmerica, said Defense definitely needs to boost the skills of its IT acquisition workforce, which lacks comprehensive understanding of commercial IT trends and technology.

To recruit highly skilled IT acquisition professionals, Defense should provide incentives such as bonuses and entry into the workforce at a high grade, he said. Beyond that, Hodgkins said Defense should design a clear career path for these professionals -- something the Pentagon currently lacks, which diminishes its ability to recruit the people needed to manage the IT systems key to the operation of networked forces.

Hodgkins endorsed the idea of an exchange program between industry and the Pentagon, suggesting that it start at the National Defense University and the Defense Acquisition University.

The Pentagon and Congress also need to dust off and ramp up the formal Information Technology Exchange Program, Hodgkins said. Only one person, John Moore, director of global strategic development, global security solutions at Lockheed Martin Corp., went through that program before authorizing legislation expired in 2008.

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