The Pentagon should increase civilian employee training opportunities and enhance collaboration with military managers to more closely match the efficiency of the private sector in aligning talent with job function, according to the Defense Business Board.
At the request of agency officials, the panel of civilians that advises the Department of Defense on issues with a private sector focus conducted a 24-week study of the Pentagon’s civilian workforce of more than 700,000 people. The research found that the military lags the private sector in talent management and hires to fill short-term vacancies with little regard to future technology needs.
The report suggests paths for improvement based off the best practices found in corporate America. These are meant to ensure the DoD has a skilled civilian workforce that can harness and drive technological change in order to maintain U.S. military advantage, it said. The ultimate objective is to enhance the overall management and governance of the Department of Defense in order to realize savings through efficiencies.
“The department doesn’t know its employees’ capabilities and requirements for the future, the systems to manage them, the policies to enable the new generation of skilled employees or the programs to upskill them,” the board said in the report, issued this month. “Most pressing, it lacks the cultural foundation, organization, and data approach to take its place as a bastion of STEM development.”
Founded in 2002, the Defense Business Board is charged with providing the DoD with a private sector perspective on business management, workplace culture, principles and practices. The board is composed of civilians “who possess a proven track record of sound judgement and business acumen.”
The study consisted of interviews, surveys and the analyses of previous research, from which the board identified areas ripe for improvement that the board said would help address cultural barriers faced by civilian employees, improve their organization and refine how data is managed.
According to the findings, civilian development is not viewed as a priority by the DoD’s culture. It specifically noted the disparity between the amount of funding earmarked for military training versus that for civilian development. The board recommended an increase in civilian training opportunities and greater collaboration between civilian and military managers.
The board also took issue with how the role of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for for Civilian Personnel Policy has become the Pentagon’s de facto chief human capital officer. The report suggested creating a new office lead by a proposed undersecretary of defense for talent management who would assume responsibility over the Office of the Manpower and Reserve Affairs and the Office of Human Resource Activity.
The third recommendation the board made was to recategorize civilian employees by their skills and purpose of their job as opposed to job title. The report also suggested that employee data be made available to the entire DoD on an automated and recurring basis.
Many private companies look beyond finding bodies to fill short-term vacancies, they hire talent with the potential to grow and learn, with an eye on future needs, the Board said in the report. Moving the military to a more purposeful focus on talent acquisition and management is essential to its critical mission of supporting 1.4 million active duty service members, it said.
“The DoD must address these issues with coordination, focus, urgency and a sense of priority at all levels,” the Board said in its report. “Some would say, the Department has a ‘capability burning platform,’ and time is running out.”
Ryan White is a reporting intern at Sightline Media. He is currently a senior at The University of Maryland, College Park studying journalism.