NGA Launches Workforce Pilot for Neurodiverse Individuals

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The intelligence agency kicked off the program in December.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is looking to increase workforce opportunities for neurodiverse individuals, including those on the autism spectrum.

In December, the intelligence agency—responsible for providing geospatial intelligence to policymakers, warfighters and first responders—launched its Neurodiverse Federal Workforce pilot program. The program is a collaborative partnership between NGA, the not-for-profit R&D company MITRE and Melwood, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that specializes in providing jobs for people with disabilities.

“NGA mission success is contingent on a world-class workforce with a wide diversity of opinions and expertise,” NGA Deputy Director Dr. Stacey Dixon said in a statement. “Neurodiverse talent can bring new perspectives to the NGA workforce and make important contributions to the mission.”

The pilot stems from the Office of Management and Budget and General Services Administration-led Government Effectiveness Advanced Research Center, or GEAR, challenge. The challenge sought to solicit proposals to address the federal government’s most challenging management and workforce challenges in innovative ways. MITRE’s neurodiversity proposal earned a Grand Prize.

“This work will be an invaluable building block for creating meaningful change across the federal workforce,” said Teresa Thomas, program lead for neurodiverse talent enablement for MITRE. “NGA has stepped forward to lead by example, collaborating on an internship program that will benefit interns on the spectrum and NGA.”

According to Dixon, the Neurodiverse Federal Workforce pilot begins with a one-week “training and interviews workshop,” after which NGA will place interns in various geospatial and imagery analysis roles that support the agency’s mission. Part of the agency’s mission involves sifting through large amounts of geospatial data from various sources, including drones and satellites, as well as open-source datasets.

“This is a tremendous learning opportunity for NGA,” Dixon said. “It allows us to demonstrate that neurodiverse talent adds significant value to the geospatial-intelligence tradecraft and helps the agency better support its existing neurodiverse employees.”

Young autistic adults face significant challenges finding employment and routinely have among the lowest rates of employment compared to peers with other disabilities.

“In addition to increasing career opportunities within the federal government for people on the autism spectrum, a historically underemployed population, the effort will also create a playbook to help other federal agencies recruit and support neurodiverse talent,” said Dixon.