Like nearly every one of their counterparts, the Defense Intelligence Agency still is adjusting to a transformed workforce.
Since Sept. 11 2001, the 17 intelligence agencies across government have seen a major turnover in their workforces — hiring 65 to 70 percent of their employees just over the last 10 years.
And these Generation Y and Generation X employees are far different than the ones hired to fight the Cold War.
Talking about their generation
“They have no intention of staying in one place for 30 years,” said David Shedd, DIA’s deputy director, Wednesday during a panel discussion in Washington on changes to the intelligence community, sponsored by Government Executive Media group. “We have a need to look at what those motivations are for them.”
To that end, Shedd is spearheading a new program to make it easier for these employees to come and go from DIA without being made to feel like they are not committed to the intelligence mission.
“We need to, over a period of 20 to 30 years offer, viable entry and exit ramps to our personnel,” he said. “When I think back over 30 years, if I had left the government at year 15, I would have been branded as someone who left the service. I think we need to change that dramatically. I think the demographics tell us in our society the average young person will have four or five careers. The intelligence community has to be able to adapt and adjust to that and bring that talent back in at various stages. He or she has gone off to do something different and bring that back into the community by way of experience.”
He said among the program’s goals is to ensure employees who leave DIA keep active security clearances to make it easier to come back into the government.
Not an overnight process
The entry-exit ramp program is just in the beginning stages of development but could be in place within a year, Shedd said.
“We want to make sure it actually has applicability to what our employees are saying,” he said. “It’s like looking at telecommuting. You don’t do it overnight. You want to make sure you’re actually addressing what the issue is and at the same time facilitating so that you are moving in that direction, but adapting as you get more direction from the employees themselves. We are designing pilots right now, but we haven’t initiated any yet.”
Shedd said the need for a new program arose for several different reasons, starting with the agency’s workforce demographics.
He said results from DIA employee surveys and exit interviews with workers leaving the agency showed a different mindset to their employees, he explained. Shedd said employees tell DIA officials the reason they are leaving is because they want different experiences, which is consistent with research about Generation X and Generation Y.
The entry-exit ramp program will focus on several areas.
“It is tied into looking at our internship program, looking at our hiring practices, diversity and attracting first-generation individuals who have a passion for the business of intelligence, but at the same time aren’t quite sure where their careers will take them,” Shedd said. “It’s really looking at the full scope of individuals who are interested in intelligence as a career.”
Along with the workforce, DIA has been a part of a dramatic change across the intelligence community in how information is shared and integrated.
Shedd said the progress made by the 17 agencies in collaborating was never more evident than during the May 1 mission to kill Osama Bin Laden. Without the key improvements the intelligence community made, the mission would not have been successful, he said.
“We now have a much greater demand for actionable information,” he added. “The demand has increased from the Defense Department’s combatant commanders, from the warfighters to integrate with tactical information and from the Homeland Security Department and state and local law enforcement officials.”
Not for lack of trying
Even with the progress, Shedd said DIA continues to look for ways to make information easier to find and share.
“We are looking on virtually every subject — and are far from doing it yet, but it’s unfolding — to create communities of interest, where the analyst inside the intelligence community regardless of where they sit in an agency are able to collaborate in the kinds of things like A-Space [a collaborative analytic workstation],” Shedd said. “But then also on more specific intelligence challenges or issues for their area.”
DIA is also improving how information is shared using a simpler tool: a blog. The goal is to bring people together under a common idea, Shedd said.
He said DIA recently set up a blog two weeks before a recent cyber conference. For the two weeks before the conference, attendees discussed issues, concerns and ideas so when they got to the conference the discussions were a step ahead of where they normally are.
But the agency is not stopping at just bringing people together. The explosion in data collection has made it harder on analysts and better technology is needed, said John McLaughlin, a former CIA deputy director.
But often, he said, technology is both the intelligence community’s friend and adversary.
“My sense is we are still now where we need to be in terms of analytic tools, basic software tools that allow us — as the intelligence community with this vast volume of information — to do what you do when you order a book on Amazon. You ask for a book and Amazon says, ‘You also might be interested in…'” McLaughlin said. “In intelligence terms that means I have a report that says a guy from — I’ll make up a country — “Albonia” just visited a very bad extremist in Yemen. I would want my computer to say, ‘You might also be interested in…’ We are getting better at that, but we are probably not where we ideally would like to be. It’s not a matter of not trying. It’s hard.”