DoD-Commissioned Study Reveals Major Gaps in Civilian Talent Management

The Department of Defense’s ununiformed workforce is made up of some of the smartest people in the world. This might not be true forever.

The DoD’s current policies and practices for managing its civilian executives lag far behind, and the department isn’t doing enough to plan for its future workforce and find ways to ensure those plans come to pass, according to a report. new study by an influential consultant. band.

The Defense Affairs Council review found…


The Department of Defense’s ununiformed workforce is made up of some of the smartest people in the world. This might not be true forever.

According to a new study by an influential advisory group.

The Defense Business Board review found that the DoD lacks the structures or tools to manage its civilian talent as a “strategic asset.” Almost all of its major HR functions are handled by individual military departments and agencies. The nominal DoD Director of Human Capital is a relatively junior official who doesn’t really have access to meaningful workforce data. And overall, training funds and career-enhancing opportunities for civilians are relatively scarce.

While the study found that there are exceptions and positives – such as in the department’s acquisition workforce – in general, civilian employees’ chances of training, development and gaining new experiences in other parts of government are rare once they have been hired into a particular job.

“Only 500 civilians will graduate from the department’s civilian leadership development programs in any given year,” the board wrote. “We couldn’t find a talent exchange program that averaged more than 20 civilian participants per year. In the 2023 academic year, the Air Force will only send 2% of all its civilian GS-9s (just over 1,500) to professional military and leadership training seminars.

The study, commissioned by Under Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, spanned six months during which board members and staff spoke with officials from the DoD, military services, Office of the management of personnel and private companies. The council’s leadership did not respond to a request from the Federal News Network, submitted through its staff, for an interview about the findings.

The written report noted a large discrepancy in what the DoD is willing to spend on training its career civilians compared to its military complement. The most striking difference the study found was for the Navy: $6,010 in annual training costs for sailors, compared to $319 for civilians. The gap was much smaller in the Air Force, but there too the service spends $5,885, on average, to train a uniformed Airman each year compared to $2,213 for a GS-13 employee.

But the study pointed out that the department’s inattention to civilian employee development is not just about money. The problems, the council said, are also cultural.

Across the department, the mindset tends to hire someone to fill a specific role whenever a position becomes available, and assume they’ll do roughly the same thing until whether he is ready to retire or resign. By contrast, the council noted, the private sector has moved towards models in which it assumes that each new employee will learn new skills and move into new positions throughout their careers.

“This talent management is critical to meeting current and future workforce needs, including delivering technology-related initiatives and driving employee retention. The rapid evolution of technology means that employees’ skills must evolve during their employment, and companies are realizing the need to support, encourage and manage this evolution and skill development,” according to the report. “Many of the largest and most successful companies in the private sector have announced investments in talent management: Accenture spends nearly $1 billion annually to retrain its employees and is committed to retraining nearly all employees at risk of losing their jobs due to automation; PwC has committed $3 billion to upskilling its 275,000 employees, and Amazon has invested $700 million in retraining a third of its U.S. workforce to help employees in non-technical roles evolve towards more technical IT positions.

But the board believes some of the biggest challenges are organizational. Because the DoD’s hiring and management practices are highly decentralized — spread across Defense agencies and military services — it’s one of the few public or private sector organizations that doesn’t have a chief executive. human capital helping to guide workforce decisions within the C suite.

The DoD has a “de facto” CHCO for civilians: the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy. But the study argues that this person – no matter how hard he tries – does not have sufficient stature in the Pentagon bureaucracy to bring about real change. And although the DoD has an undersecretary position for general personnel and readiness matters, civilian career management issues tend to be crowded out by the undersecretary’s other priorities.

“[The board] observes and appreciates the arduous task of USD(P&R) overseeing an organization of approximately 25 subordinate organizations with diverse and distinct problem sets. The delegation of responsibility is understandable given the basket of HR and readiness functions to oversee, from voting to health care, to language training, to commissioners,” the board wrote. “However, this delegation left the CHCO de facto too junior to participate in the Deputy Secretary of Defense’s decision-making forums.”

And even the existing undersecretary position, with all of its other responsibilities, doesn’t have a stellar record of consistent leadership. There have been 20 different civil servants who have held this position over the past twelve years – almost all of them short-term and acting.

As a way to address organizational issues, the board suggests that Congress create a new undersecretary position dedicated exclusively to civilian talent management.

“During our interviews, when asked what they would change if they were ‘SECDEF for a day’, a senior [P&R] official summed up the sentiment from OSD’s perspective by stating, “I just want someone to listen to me”. We need leadership and service to respect our office. This was not a slap against DoD leadership, rather it was an acknowledgment that without strong support from the top, nothing was likely to change. But everyone understood that senior leaders had big problems on their plates,” the board wrote.

Elevating civilian talent management into the leadership structure could also have the side benefit of helping the DoD collect and analyze data about its existing civilian workforce and future needs. Overall, these types of datasets simply don’t exist today, the board found, at least not with the kind of granularity the department needs to conduct effective workforce planning.

This is largely because none of the existing military services and defense agency personnel systems communicate with each other.

Over the next year and a half, the department plans to finally set up a central database called the Defense Civilian Human Resource Management System. But even DCHRMS won’t keep information about employee skills or other key pieces of personnel data.

The board said the lack of a “data lake” on existing DoD talent and future labor demands is a giant blind spot.

“How many artificial intelligence engineers will we need in 2032? How many do we have today? How many vacancies do we have for AI engineers? Will we reach our fill rate target? Who do we have with project management experience and a background in logistics and machine learning? Does anyone have similar skills we should be targeting for development opportunities? How do we ensure a steady supply of employees ready to lead our toughest positions? What impact would result from increased budget allocations to programs that encourage participation in skills upgrading? It is impossible to answer these questions about talent management at this time,” the board wrote.

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