Sustaining U.S. national security and military preeminence depends on attracting, retaining, and managing top science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) talent, according to a new report by the National Research Council and the National Academy of Engineering. The report highlights the risk of a shortfall of highly qualified scientists and engineers within the Department of Defense (DOD), and proposes changes to prevent a workforce crisis.

To access top talent in the global marketplace, the U.S. military should consider revising rules that presently exclude hiring foreign-born scientists and engineers. The report calls on DOD to “reexamine the need for security clearances in selected positions in order to permit non-U.S. citizens to enter the STEM talent pool… under tailored circumstances.” Additionally, “the H1-B visa system should be modified to provide… a substantially larger pool of extraordinary talent in areas of need.” Foreign hiring recommendations could be difficult to enact, however, because they require changes in a suite of laws and regulations, many of which are out of the hands of the military.

The Department of Defense should also make its work more attractive to potential employees by providing meaningful career development and educational opportunities for civilian, as well as uniformed, personnel.

The report advised that the Pentagon sponsor “unconventional” research and engineering projects to potential workers. “It’s been shown over and over again that the idea of working on a challenging project is a very attractive recruiting tool,” said C. Daniel Mote Jr., the former president of University of Maryland, College Park, who co-chaired the 18-month-long study with former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine.

Other recommendations include expansion of DOD SMART, a civilian “scholarship for service” program, as well as other education fronts that directly benefit the military, and implementation of policies to protect particularly important positions from layoffs and hiring freezes.

The report counseled that, since DOD employs approximately 2% of STEM workers in the United States, it “cannot significantly impact the nation’s overall STEM workforce—and therefore, with a few exceptions, DOD should focus its limited resources on fulfilling its own special requirements for STEM talent.”

Steps need to be taken for DOD to become “fully competitive with overall industry and academia,” and develop an “agile and resilient STEM workforce… attuned to the dynamism and future uncertainty of technical needs,” the report panel states. It is unclear, however, how much priority the report will receive with DOD facing impending budget cuts and other issues.


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