There has been a lot of recent talk on both coasts about one way the federal government is pulling in talent for top tech positions: find highly intelligent people from the private sector, have them use their tech skills to better the country and then, if they choose, let them return to private life once their task is complete.
Adm. Mike Rogers wants to see that model at the National Security Agency, yet only in reverse. Speaking at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association’s cybersecurity summit Thursday, the NSA’s director said he would like the NSA’s workforce to start with the agency, work with the private sector for a fixed amount of time and then return to the NSA with a new outlook on how to better protect the nation.
“I’m watching two different dynamics that don’t understand each other,” Rogers said, referring to the public and private sector. “One of the ways I think we can help understand each other is if there is more cross pollination. How do we create mechanisms for the private sector to work with us, and us to work with the private sector and then come back.”
Retaining the NSA’s workforce have been a challenge that Rogers said he has thought a lot about since becoming NSA director and head of U.S. Cyber Command one year ago. While the NSA competes for top talent, he has spent time studying the differences between the public and private sector workforce. In talking with people in Silicon Valley, Rogers learned that people generally bounce from company to company, staying for two to five years.
Rogers said his model is completely different: NSA has a 96.7 percent workforce retention rate for the past year.
“That is a great testament to the culture and the mission,” Rogers said. “We are motivated to no end, we have great respect for each other and we are dedicated to the idea of how we defend the nation in a lawful, accountable framework.”
But Rogers knows that retention is only one part of the equation. Recruitment is a different battle. Earlier this week, a story on NPR highlighted the struggles the NSA has with recruiting talent, be it due to fallout from the Edward Snowden leaks or the ability of Silicon Valley companies to offer more competitive salaries.
The NSA director admitted the agency needs to broaden its outreach efforts in order to attract younger talent.
“We have got to get to people at an earlier age,” Rogers said. “We are increasing our outreach efforts, particularly at the high school level. If you come out to Fort Meade right now, you will find young people as our interns.”
Yet if those interns leave, Rogers wants to keep the door open for them to return, hopefully with a better understanding of how the NSA can work together with the private sector.
“I watch two cultures that think they understand each other, and they’re just talking past each other,” Rogers said. “The [private sector] is changing the world for technology. Our focus is about defending the nation.”