DOD looks to civilian workforce to close technology gaps
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The Defense Department has been increasingly looking to recruit civilians to fill its tech talent needs, but lawmakers worry that there won’t be enough resources to fund the uniformed services and procurement needs.
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, said the civilian to military personnel in DOD was at an “all time high” and “unsustainable.”
“I know that many civilian employees, particularly at our depots, are needed to carry out DOD’s national security mission,” Calvert said during an appropriations hearing Oct. 26 on the defense workforce. “However there has been significant growth throughout DOD’s bureaucracy. And I don’t see how we can afford to maintain the current civilian workforce into the future if we are forced to balance those costs with procurement and the research efforts which are absolutely necessary.”
Gilbert Cisneros, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness he didn’t think a number or ratio could be used to cap the DOD’s civilian workforce.
“The civilian workforce that we have at the Department of Defense is an integral part of the defense of our nation. They play a critical role in the work that we do. They enable the warfighters so they can be out there…in an operational mode,” he said, adding that “it’s just not proper for us to put a number on it.”
The Army, which currently has a four-to-one ratio of military service members to civilian personnel, has also expanded its civilian hiring vectors, including a new scholarship program, according to Christopher Lowman, who is performing the duties of Army undersecretary.
Lowman testified that the Army has launched a STEM scholarship program for civilians with the goal of hiring 1,000 students over the next five years. The program will offset costs of tuition and books with the requirement they work 600 hours while enrolled in school. Graduates would then be required to work for the Army for four years of civilian service.
“We believe that early acquisition focused on STEM and cyber [talent] is critical,” Lowman said.
The question comes as the Defense Department wrestles with a dearth of technical talent in specialized areas including cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.