(Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Dr. C.D. Mote’s title)
This story was updated at 10 a.m. Nov. 1 to include comments from report co- author Norm Augustine.
It’s probably not a surprise the Defense Department is struggling to fill science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) positions. But the new report by the National Research Council and the National Academy of Engineering found the problem lies in finding the right workers for certain areas, such as cybersecurity, systems engineering and intelligence.
“The question is not really a numbers question. The question is really a quality question,” said Dr. C.D. Mote, a member of the National Research Council Governing Board and co-author of the report, in an interview with In Depth with Francis Rose.
One recommendation is to recruit from the overseas STEM workforce. A challenge has been the inability to attract U.S. students to STEM careers, compared with other countries. More than half of the doctoral degrees awarded by U.S. engineering schools go to non-citizens. And in 2004, 38 percent of those foreign graduates left the United States five years later, the report found.
The report recommends DoD examine citizenship requirements and classification conditions for its STEM needs. One example is the Energy Department, which has been able to recruit non-citizens in non-secure positions on the condition they become citizens and then get a security clearance, Mote said.
Currently, DoD has the authority to make quicker hiring decisions but such authority is “seldom exercised,” said Norm Augustine, co-author of the report, as well as former CEO of Lockheed Martin and a former Army under secretary. “The most talented people, the ones that are in most demand, simply won’t sit around six months waiting for a decision,” he said.
The 18-month study found DoD is no longer the employer of choice for STEM workers, at a time it should be hiring a “high fraction of the highest-quality STEM workforce,” Mote said.
Recent graduates are deterred from pursuing a STEM career at DoD budget department budget cutbacks, Augustine said.
“That’s a big concern to a person just getting out of college, when they can go to work in Silicon Valley or go to work in the information industry,” he said.
DoD also can do more to develop its current STEM workforce, he said.
“DoD has a very effective mechanism for training and retraining its military workforce, but it doesn’t provide the same training and retraining opportunities for its civilian workforce, especially the civilian STEM workforce,” Mote said.
Domestic STEM workers also should have the chance to work overseas. “DoD’s workforce needs to understand what’s going on out there.”
One way to attract both American and foreign STEM workers is to offer participation in “unconventional programs” and the opportunity to work on projects at the cutting-edge of technology, Mote said.
Augustine said DoD’s ability to recruit top STEM employees is tied to national security.
“Increasingly, technology is going to be the important factor in deciding how well DoD can carry out its missions,” he said.
Francis Rose is the host of In Depth, which airs weekdays from 4-7 p.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, DC metro area and online everywhere. Francis has covered all three branches of the federal government as a broadcast journalist since 1998. He joined Federal News Radio in 2006, and launched In Depth in 2008 as a daily show focused on connecting federal executives to the information they need to do their jobs better.