Pentagon Secretary Ash Carter unveiled a slate of personnel reforms that include letting recruiters on college campuses hire information security whizzes straight away, and letting civilians swap places with techies at leading companies for short stints.
Driving these changes, in part, is a concern that the Defense Department will lose its edge in future generations.
Carter might not be able to offer higher pay to attract talent. But at the very least, he wants to give cyber pros and startup-minded techies job flexibility similar to what they would receive in the private sector.
Defense needs Congress to sign off on these hiring adjustments.
It’s unclear if the legislation can be folded into the annual must-pass potentially $600 billion defense bill the Senate and House currently are negotiating.
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Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told Nextgov in an email, “I am pleased to see the Secretary Carter found some useful ideas in the Senate [National Defense Authorization Act] and supports many of its initiatives, including promotion board flexibility, allowing certain officers to defer promotion consideration, direct hiring of students and recent graduates, and establishing a public-private talent exchange.”
A House Armed Services Committee aide told Nextgov on background there is no leeway to add provisions out of whole cloth in conference.
"We are just now seeing them, so it would be premature to speculate on their future," but "in general, we support DOD improving the military and civilian workforce and we look forward to reviewing these proposals,” the aide said.
Carter, too, said he looked forward to partnering with the House committee and its Senate counterpart to change the laws on the books.
"If you’re a computer science or other STEM major graduating from Stanford or MIT or the University of Texas, or someone else very qualified with advanced training, you’re not going to wait three more months after you applied for us to make you an offer,” he said in a speech Thursday. “By the time we get around to it, chances are you’ll have gotten another offer already – if not accepted it already, and shown up for your first day of work somewhere else. “
Carter wants recruiters for the department’s 700,000-person civilian workforce to interview job candidates at, for example, MIT’s Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus and make them an offer for a fitting position right on the spot, pending security clearance.
Today, recruiters must first send their preferred candidates through the red tape that is USAJobs.gov to, among other things, fill out a resume, upload documents, respond to questions and wait for application processing.
On-campus job offers could cut the wait by 90 days, Carter said.
“Make no mistake: This is going to be huge," he added. "I can’t emphasize that enough."
Another proposed facet of Carter's "Force of the Future" is a two-way talent exchange program that would let civilian military personnel and industry professionals rotate in and out of Pentagon positions across the globe.
Today, there is no formal authority for, say, a Defense Logistics Agency civilian to spend six months at Amazon or FedEx for training. Nor is there an authorized way for the Pentagon to detail an Amazon logistics manager at DLA.
"So, we want to create a program to facilitate that – with all the proper ethical safeguards, of course," Carter said. Being able to temporarily exchange employees with some of America’s best companies "will help DOD stay on cutting edge, and be more efficient and effective."
In addition, Carter proposed letting “network defense or encryption” experts and certain other specialists who want to serve in uniform enter the military at a level equal to their experience, not at the lowest ranks
Separately, there already are laws granting wiggle room to onboard "highly qualified experts" and specialized graduates Carter plans to take greater advantage of.
For example, last year, the Pentagon tapped serial entrepreneur Chris Lynch to run the Defense Digital Service and named Greg Zacharias, founder of Charles River Analytics, the Air Force’s chief scientist. Carter expects to boost the number of experts by 10 percent a year over the next five years.
The military's scholarship-for-service program, meant to attract outstanding STEM students, also will offer 10 percent more financial aid packages over the next half-decade.