NNSA Job Fair

The National Nuclear Security Administration is seeing progress in the security clearance process and new hiring initiatives said its head Lisa Gordon-Hagerty. (Anne-Marie Hainer/NNSA)

The National Nuclear Security Administration’s workforce of 44,000 people may soon face a talent drain, as nearly 40 percent of its employees are eligible for retirement in the next five years.

But agency leadership thinks that new hiring initiatives, such as job fairs with on-the-spot offers and progress that has been made in the security clearance processing backlog for new employees, could fill those soon-to-be vacant positions.

At the agency’s job fair — held July 11 just outside Washington, D.C. — NNSA administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty told Federal Times that her agency sees promise in the planned transition of background investigation authorities from the Office of Personnel Management to the Department of Defense

“I’ve worked very closely with the undersecretary of defense for intelligence that has that portfolio, and they know what our requirements are, which are quite similar to their requirements, so we’re working very closely, and hopefully that will break this logjam of security clearances. But if not, we’re finding different ways to get around the issues that have traditionally tied our hands in terms of the security clearance process,” said Gordon-Hagerty.

“We are actually putting OPM investigators at our labs, plants and sites, and at our headquarters so we can expedite those processes.”

In addition to partnerships with the DoD and OPM, NNSA works closely with the Departments of State and Commerce, as well as contractors. So Gordon-Hagerty said that the job fair made sure to include contractors, which would ensure that skilled workers were coming to NNSA from multiple sources.

According to Gordon-Hagerty, the job fair’s on-the-spot job offers work by taking care of many components of the hiring process onsite that would traditionally take much longer. The offers are then made contingent on the applicant’s ability to obtain a security clearance, and the agency’s offices can sometimes provide introductory work that does not require a clearance to complete.

“We had folks who applied for our positions weeks ago, we were able to provide their resume, and they could schedule a time to be interviewed onsite. It really condenses the process and provides a much quicker timeline to go from A to B,” said Jason Julian, chief of staff at the NNSA’s Nevada Field Office.

“The resume can speak to the technical competency, but how will they fit in our organization? Obviously, we have our own culture, our own mission set that we support, out in Nevada. So being able to speak to individuals about that, to see their passion come through, and if it matches the passion and the culture that we have it helps us to align ourselves with the right individuals.”

The agency also benefits from its close relationship with the DoD by finding a significant group of its workers from among retiring service members, who have a much easier time getting cleared for NNSA’s work maintaining the nation’s nuclear stockpile and promoting nonproliferation.

Bringing in the new generation of government workers is a priority for Gordon-Hagerty, who said that now is the time to make sure that the outgoing workforce is passing on its expertise to the younger employees that are just entering the agency or moving into leadership positions.

The agency also offers a two-year fellowship program that gives recent college graduates a taste of work at all of the NNSA job sites and can lead to job offers for participants.

Ben Jaramillo, who works for Learning and Career Management at NNSA, called the program “a direct pipeline to NNSA” to fill the gap between employees retiring and the number of employees that come into the agency.

But part of NNSA’s hiring success also comes from moving past the traditional restraints on employee hiring that many agencies still have to contend with.

“We’ve broken through the program of not just using the regular General Schedule opportunity. We can actually have competitive-salaried positions,” said Gordon-Hagerty.

Government officials and members of Congress have both questioned the usefulness of the General Schedule system, which was designed in the 1970s and struggles to encompass more modern jobs that didn’t even exist at its inception.

In total, NNSA is looking to hire over 2,000 new workers by the end of this year, according to an agency spokesperson, and Gordon-Hagerty said that the agency is hoping to make over 100 job offers from the July 11 fair alone.