DOD CIO Deasy calls for government to better recruit senior tech talent

DoD CIO Dana Deasy speaks at the ACT-IAC Imagine Nation ELC 2018 conference on Oct. 15. (Photo by Carten Cordell)

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Dana Deasy’s career in technology had often flirted closely with the federal government, but until recently never close enough for him to take up the mantle of public service.

Despite private sector careers that brought him experience in the space, automotive, technology and finance industries, Deasy said that working for the federal government was never a consideration until late in his career, and that is something that’s got to change.

Deasy, who accepted his first government job as Department of Defense CIO in April, called on federal leaders to reach out not only to the highly coveted technology talent from college and universities but also mid- and late-career executives like himself with “government intersections” that could entice them to the high-valued mission of federal work.

“Imagine someone who has gone into private industry. We’ve all hit that fork in the road in our careers where we need to start thinking about what that next career would look like. Imagine that that young individual who’s now hit that fork in the road thinks, ‘What about government as that next step in my career,’” Deasy said Monday at the 2018 ACT-IAC Imagine Nation ELC conference in Philadelphia.

With the bulk of the current federal IT workforce quickly aging towards retirement, Deasy called for agency leaders to open paths and outreach to recruit college talent for federal service but also to not overlook more experienced executives looking to give back.

“I will tell you, and I’m sure that I can speak for every agency in the room today, you do become captivated by the mission you are working on,” he said. “I’m not trying to disparage careers in private industry, you are talking to someone who did that for their entire career. I’m simply trying to say, how do we create a playing field that has young people, mid-career people and people who are at the end of their career who want to think about an alternative to private industry.”

Public service was not the immediate path for Deasy, who spent 22 years of his 36-year career as a CIO at companies like space shuttle contractor Rockwell International, Siemens, General Motors and JP MorganChase.

It wasn’t until former Federal CIO Tony Scott reached out to Deasy to offer advice and best practices to agency CIOs that the possibility of public service entered his purview.

“It gave me a chance to truly see the commitment and passion of CIOs in government,” he said. “It gave me a chance to learn about the complexity, size and scale of the problem sets they are trying to solve for. I remember going home and talking to my wife, and I said, ‘Boy, I wish there was some way that I could help them.’”

Deasy would earn his opportunity this spring at the Pentagon, where he said he is leading efforts to move the department to a multi-cloud enterprise environment, incorporate artificial intelligence into operations and recruit the future technology workforce at a time of great change.

In trying to prepare the department for the technological revolution, Deasy said that bringing in the personnel needed will require the DOD to work harder to identify talent along various points of the career timeline and communicate to them its most valuable asset: the mission.

“We are not going to win the hearts and minds when it comes to one’s wallet,” he said. “However, we can win the hearts and minds on the complexity, the challenges, the very calling [of public service].”

Deasy said professionals and up-and-coming talent will be drawn to the value of that mission if they know that it’s available to them.

“Our biggest challenges inside the DOD — yes, they are complex,” he said. “They are mind-boggling, and we need the creative people who want to work on the complex and the mind-boggling.”

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CIO, cyber workforce strategy, Dana Deasy, Department of Defense (DOD), workforce
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