Sustaining Workforce is NDIA’s Top Issue

By Peter M. Steffes

XThe National Defense Industrial Association identified the sustaining of the U.S. national security workforce advantage as its number one priority in 2008.

The association’s board of directors approved the “Top Issues for 2008” at its semi-annual meeting in November. Replacing the depleted federal acquisition workforce continues to represent a challenge for federal agencies. Insufficient and improperly skilled employees can affect the ability of agencies to meet their mission requirements.

During the next five years, nearly 50 percent of the acquisition workforce will be eligible for retirement, some estimates show. For example, there are scores of unfilled acquisition positions at the Department of Homeland Security that could undermine that federal agencies’ preparedness.

Resolving acquisition workforce issues calls for advanced recruitment processes, increased training and amended retention priorities. We face human capital concerns that must be met with revised policies along with adequate funds available to train the acquisition workforce.

This could include a government-industry acquisition professional exchange program to broaden practical experience, and gain critical skills.

Under normal government hiring procedures, an agency must publicize a job and then rate and rank candidates using a structured assessment process. These procedures take months to complete, although some agencies have a limited direct hire authority for certain specified positions. NDIA supports a broader application of direct hiring authority as a way to replenish vacancies as they occur in a timely manner.

NDIA endorses human resources reforms. This includes allowing pay for performance, and career progression based on learning and organizational contributions, not time in grade. Pay and benefits of our acquisition workforce must also remain competitive with industry.

Under current regulations, veteran preferences do not have to be considered for direct hire authority. However, NDIA believes veteran preferences should be applied at all levels of government hiring.

Furthermore, NDIA strongly endorses recent congressional efforts to extend the authority for agencies to fill critical shortages and the repeal of any reduction in retirement pay for retired annuitants who would be willing to rejoin the acquisition workforce and act as mentors for new hires.

Actions are also urgently needed to attract, educate and retain skilled workers in the U.S. manufacturing workforce, which stands at just over 14 million — 25 percent less than it did 25 years ago.

Half of this decline can be attributed to the apparel, fabricated metal products, machinery, computers, electronics and transportation equipment sectors. These are all needed to adequately support our national security.

Older workers are not staying in manufacturing, and there are fewer in the next generation to replace them. Programs are needed to encourage and promote manufacturing, especially defense manufacturing, as an important, highly respected and desirable career path.

To remedy these shortfalls, the U.S. education system needs to bolster its science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. In engineering alone, the United States saw a 50-percent decline in the world’s share of bachelors’ engineering degrees from 1991 to 2000.

In recognition of the United States’ woefully inadequate numbers of college graduates in STEM fields, NDIA has established the national security science and technology workforce division. It provides a forum for effective interaction between government, industry, academia, and the public for improving STEM graduation rates and strengthening the national security workforce.

The division is focused on gathering industry support for activities and initiatives that excite and attract students to STEM careers; providing industry-wide support to government STEM initiatives; producing defense industrial base STEM workshops; and working with Congress in evaluating and supporting legislation to improve education workforce development.

To succeed in these efforts, the U.S. national security industry must develop and support unique, exciting and inspiring ways to encourage young citizens to pursue STEM careers.

The complete Top 10 issues publication can be viewed at, in the “Advocacy” section.

Questions and comments should be directed to Peter M. Steffes, vice president for government policy: or (703) 247-9470.

NDIA Annual Membership Meeting
The National Defense Industrial Association will conduct its 2008 annual membership meeting on April 17 at 2:00 p.m. All members are welcome to the association headquarters for the president’s report on association activities. Contact Trina Dickey at or (703) 247-2589.

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