3 Strategies to Power the National Security Workforce

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Innovation: Leverage the Power of Digital

First, integrate the innovators. At this moment, brilliant minds are creating tools and techniques that can accelerate IC capabilities—from activating artificial intelligence (AI) at the edge to automating multi-intelligence fusion. It’s time to use the same technologies that are transforming the private sector to transform the public sector. Silicon Valley offers the advantage of fast timelines, with shorter funding cycles than the government’s formal acquisition and development process.

The IC can move forward using commercial technologies that are readily available, embedding software across mission priorities, by prioritizing access to unconventional technologies from nontraditional defense businesses. While the IC has taken steps to make acquisitions from these emerging tech companies easier, stakeholders still need support in finding, vetting, and conducting due diligence on the ones that will have the most significant impact in shaping the future battlespace.

A bridge is therefore needed from organization to invention. We’ve seen that getting IC stakeholders, technical visionaries, and partners together sparks breakthrough conversations that can then be translated to objectives, requirements, and plans—from acquisition, accreditation, and testing to full implementation. Some of the areas industry partners can enable are:

  • Identifying promising technologies, both in the U.S. and among allied nations
  • Mapping innovation to mission sets, from scope of work to execution
  • Helping startups gain clearances, align with government policies, and speed accreditation
  • Tailoring open-source, commercial solutions to integrate innovation cost-effectively
  • Guiding the process to ensure zero trust security

Customization: Empower Distributed Teams

Second, empower the hybrid workforce. As Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines has noted, diversity is fundamental to national security. The IC has access to less than 1% of the U.S. workforce—and this percentage is in jeopardy of contracting based on growth in the private sector. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted employee expectations toward remote work. To scale operations, solidify resilience, and gain timely access to cutting-edge skills, organizations need to retain employees that prefer flexible working arrangements while gaining a broader pool of talent.

To this end, many intelligence leaders have been integrating some form of a hybrid working model that enables professionals of varying clearance levels to work in a mix of secure compartmented information facilities (SCIF) and unclassified spaces. This gives the IC the opportunity to employ the skills of professionals waiting to be fully cleared as well as top software and engineering talent that can take on unclassified work for a “develop low side, deploy high side” approach. Immersing these experts in rewarding work during the months they’re waiting to be cleared helps them bond with the mission—increasing the chance of retention during this phase while giving them a taste of opportunities beyond.

Successful IC pilots are enabling advances in areas including AI, zero trust security, and specialized engineering. These projects benefit from a customized strategy: Each organization evaluates what work is conducive to multiclass operations, and where appropriate, shapes contracts to permit such an approach.

One strategy we recommend is transitioning selected initiatives to geographically distributed SCIFs—literally opening new doors for hybrid operations. This not only lowers risks by building a more dispersed workforce but also offers the chance to plug into innovation hubs such as Austin, Seattle, and Boston. This means:

  • Employees can begin work at remote locations across the country and then, once cleared, commute to local SCIFs for leading-edge classified work.
  • Leaders can experiment with various models to see which mix of remote and compartmented work is most effective—with access to classified experts in varied regions all the while.
  • Operations can be rapidly scaled, strengthening resilience.

Cultivation: Motivate Diverse Next-Gen Talent

Third, cultivate the next generation of intelligence professionals. It’s no news that high-tech companies offer new STEM graduates prestigious work and salaries to match—giving them a pole position in the talent wars. What’s more, the younger workforce stays in a given position, on average, just a bit longer than it takes to obtain a high-level clearance. Yet in every generation, there are those who long to make a difference and are inspired by the mission to safeguard the future. These are the professionals the IC must identify and engage.

Leaders can inspire the next generation by giving them forward-looking assignments. Why not let them further critical analysis of open-source intelligence, for example—an area that becomes increasingly relevant as geopolitical events unfold? Other attractions to consider are:

  • Partnerships with organizations for STEM programs, hackathons, and competitions
  • Robust internship programs that allow hands-on experimentation with new tech
  • Assignments to non-classified pilot programs on the leading edge of tech

The way ahead is challenging, but prioritizing key objectives simplifies the journey. And the rewards are worth it—advances in AI, cyber, edge computing, and other critical technologies can only be achieved by scaling our combined resources. We must continue to connect with diverse partners and professionals to drive the mission forward—and accelerate decision advantage against the nation's adversaries.

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