Surveillance eye against binary code background. By enzozo. Shutterstock ID 340300073


IC needs workforce reform, Congress says

Lawmakers want the intelligence community to reform its personnel practices while challenging long-held norms, such as the near-absolute need for a security clearance and resistance to open intelligence sharing, according to a new congressional report.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence's Subcommittee on Strategic Technologies and Advanced Research released a report Oct. 6 recommending new employees waiting for a clearance be put in positions where they don't require one for the meantime, and evaluate any barriers to that approach.

But reconsidering whether a security clearance was truly necessary is the bigger challenge raised, especially to improve science and technology developments, even as overall wait times for clearances are dropping.

Reps. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) and Chris Stewart (R-Utah), the subcommittee chair and ranking member who led the report, wrote that "a top secret clearance is not necessary for all IC personnel to perform their job responsibilities, and for [science and technology research and development] in particular, much work can be completed without even a secret-level security clearance."

Forgoing the clearance requirement could lead to more "open source intelligence work" which would allow technologists and scientists to better collaborate with academia and private industry," the lawmakers argue. As a result, the report recommends the IC give open source intelligence programs "the appropriate attention and resourcing" in tandem with artificial intelligence and machine learning efforts.

On the talent development side, the report pushed for social policy reform, namely the immigration process to improve the IC's STEM talent pool. The report called foreign-born talent an "untapped resource" that has been stymied by an "onerous, bureaucratic, and backlogged immigration system." Reform, the lawmakers wrote, would "facilitate access to highly-skilled scientists and engineers."

The report zoomed in on several workforce challenges in the IC, including retention challenges, suggesting all intelligence community elements offer federal student loan relief and "consistent standards for federal student loan repayment eligibility" to help keep tech talent.

Lawmakers also pointed out the underutilization of existing hiring authorities for technical talent but is holding off on legislative action for now. Instead the recommendation is for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to do a study to "determine whether existing authorities fail to fulfill the IC's need for highly skilled [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] talent, and whether a companion authority" is needed.

The subcommittee also recommended the IC create a "technology fellowship program similar to the Presidential Management Fellowship oriented towards recent STEM graduates," according to the report.

Other recommendations included emulating some of the Defense Department's ongoing efforts, such as the Air Force's software factory model with Kessel Run and creating an intelligence focused innovation board.

The report also suggested the IC replicate the success with the Air Force's famed Kessel Run software factory that "shifted DOD information technology security processes to more closely align with industry best practices" and initially saved the service millions of dollars per week for a $2.2 million initial investment.

"Those IC elements that struggle with software development are encouraged to seek out partnerships with the private sector to absorb best practices," the report states. "While Kessel Run's model may not be a perfect match, IC elements should seek to adopt the best practices of DevSecOps in appropriate ways."

This article first appeared on FCW, a Defense Systems partner site. 

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.

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