The Department of Defense is looking to develop a force of the future that will be able to defend and retaliate in cyberspace, as well as deliver the technology infrastructure to support troops in the field. In doing so, DoD will need to recruit and train a larger civilian workforce, according to a draft reform package currently under review by Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
Along with more resources and better training for the troops, the "Force of the Future" plan includes creation of a Defense Digital Services modeled after the U.S. Digital Service teams working to improve citizen services at civilian agencies.
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If the plan is approved, DoD would seek to build two teams — one at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and another in Silicon Valley. Combined, the teams would start with 50 term appointees in the first six months, building up to 100 people within the first year.
Similar to the USDS and other similar civilian programs, the DDS would consist of a rolling temporary workforce designed to bring fresh, innovative people in for brief terms of service. Team members would initially be appointed to two-year terms, with the option for a single two-year extension.
While the initiative would include more headcount, the program could provide DoD with significant return on investment.
The plan cites a recent consulting project between DoD and 18F — the innovation arm of the General Services Administration — that saved the department some $150 million by taking a "more technically informed approach to procurement."
Establishing DDS teams at the Pentagon and in Silicon Valley would cost approximately 0.1 percent of the department's annual IT spend and could provide cost savings on the order of five- to tenfold within the first year.
The DDS will also include the DoD Digital Innovation Council, a group made up of technical experts from DoD, USDS and other innovative federal teams and the private sector.
"Persons and teams in DoD looking to take a truly agile approach to development need a 'safe space to experiment, test, potentially fail and iterate as necessary — an 'innovation bunker' that exists outside the traditional system," according to the draft document. "This concept, similar to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's approach to research and development, will, in fact, be familiar to some across the department."
The "Force of the Future" document contains 11 initiatives specifically targeting civilian employee reforms:
Public-Private Talent Exchange
The first proposal would open up the Intergovernmental Personnel Act to include for-profit companies. This would allow DoD personnel and private sector employees to work through exchange programs for terms of up to five years.
The plan notes this initiative might run into problems with "ethical and legal 'revolving-door' provisions," as well as issues around security clearances and financial conflicts. The chief recruiting officer will be responsible for ensuring employees on both sides of the exchanges work within current regulations.
Increase Hiring from STEM Fields
The second reform establishes the Christine H. Fox S&T Fellows Program, providing for 20 annual scholarships to women pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Applicants must meet four criteria:
- Projected to graduate with a STEM degree within four years;
- Agree to serve in the department as an S&T intern for six weeks for at least two summers between academic years;
- Agree to serve in the department as an S&T fellow for three years upon graduation from a civilian academic institution; and
- Be a female or minority candidate.
Focus on Millennial Recruiting
In order to target the upcoming generation, DoD would look to create a Millennial Ambassador Corps of 24 millennial-aged civilian employees to serve as recruitment advisors and conduct outreach programs for one-year terms.
The initiative would also include a national call-to-service campaign called "Tour of Service."
Establish an Independent Hiring Gateway
Under the plan, DoD would build a web portal specifically for civilian hiring similar to USAJobs.gov.
Increase Recruitment at Colleges and Universities
Along with an online presence, DoD would step up civilian recruitment at academic institutions through a three-pronged approach:
- Establish a DoD Civilian On-Campus Recruiting Authority;
- Build a DoD Campus Talent Pipeline; and
- Enhance the department's internship programs.
Compensate, Promote and Retain Critical Skills
The sixth reform would retool the general schedule grades into four bands, plus a fifth executive service band.
- Band I: entry/development track (GS-5 through GS-10)
- Band II: full performance I (GS-11 to GS-12)
- Band III: full-performance II (GS-13 to GS-14)
- Band IV: experts and managers (GS-15)
- Band V: senior executive/senior professional positions (SES, SL and ST)
The proposal would also create market-based compensation for high-skilled positions and double the cap for retention incentives.
Develop Civilian Talent Management Systems
DoD plans to stand up two new offices: the Center for Talent Development and Civilian Human Capital Innovation Lab. The two groups will work in tandem to identify top talent and provide skills training to keep those individuals on the cutting edge.
This initiative also includes creation of a Civilian Talent Investment Fund to ensure the necessary resources are available.
Expand Individual Broadening Opportunities
This three-part proposal will develop and implement a civilian Joint Duty Assignment program to provide opportunities to mid-career civilian employees; remove barriers to mobility between components within DoD; and establish mandatory rotations for positions within the department's Senior Executive Service.
Overhaul Civilian HR IT Systems
The department wants to move the human resources and payroll management system for its 700,000 civilian employees to the cloud. Initial estimates put software-as-a-service options at $30 million for the first year, $24 million for the second and $6.3 million for subsequent years.
Strengthen Tools to Shape the Workforce
The tenth proposal would give DoD more flexibility in budgeting and retaining high-performing employees through two reforms: raising the cap on the Voluntary Separation Incentive Program to 25 percent of base salary (capped at $40,000) and reordering Reduction in Force priorities to put emphasis on performance rather than tenure.
Hold Low Performers Accountable
The final initiative would give managers more authority to divest poor performers through three reforms:
- Propose legislation to allow for expedited and streamlined removals and demotions of low performing GS-15s and SESs;
- Establish a centralized office with labor relations lawyers that specialize in performance management and divestiture; and
- Recognize performance management and accountability are supervisor responsibilities by linking supervisor performance ratings to handling of low performers.
The plan notes this last reform "should be approached with caution, as the White House may be opposed."
Aaron Boyd is an awarding-winning journalist currently serving as editor of Federal Times — a Washington, D.C. institution covering federal workforce and contracting for more than 50 years — and Fifth Domain — a news and information hub focused on cybersecurity and cyberwar from a civilian, military and international perspective.