The Defense Innovation Board (DIB) today recommended that the Pentagon open its hiring practices to include civilians who work from home and can handle classified information. DIB members suggested the change in policy as a way to attract tech talent working remotely in the age of COVID-19.

In a virtual meeting today, DIB members shared five recommendations for Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the Pentagon on how to attract and retain civilian workers with specialized skills in digital technologies. They also recommended creating a nationwide network of Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities, or SCIFs, that would allow remote workers to review classified information in locations near their homes.

“So for remote staff, can you access them? Can you have a hotel in them? I think we talked about this idea of a WeWork for SCIFs,” said DIB member Jennifer Pahlka.

Due to the pandemic, tech giants like Facebook and Google have told employees they can work from home until summer 2021, and some companies have chosen to become semi-remote or permanently remote. Pahlka said the military must also change in order to remain competitive with private businesses competing for the same talent.

“This is a great example of where this is not just about adapting to a crisis; this is about what the department needs to do anyway, and let’s use the crisis for some good,” Pahlka said, adding that the group’s Workforce, Behavior, and Culture subcommittee believes the Department of Defense (DoD) is at an inflection point when it comes to talent management. “If the DoD can’t quickly adapt to these changes, the reality is we risk running further behind,” Pahlka said.

Created in 2016, the DIB offers Congress and the Pentagon recommendations on how to modernize and incorporate emerging technology. The DIB is advising the U.S. Space Force, for example, and devised AI ethics the military adopted in February. Board members include academic professors, Big Tech executives, astrophysicist and author Neil deGrasse Tyson, and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

A document released today detailed other recommendations for adapting remote work to accommodate civilian workers. These include starting small with dedicated pilot programs to fill tech talent gaps; identifying best practices from groups like the Defense Digital Service, whose staff already works remotely; and making military culture more flexible to remote work needs.

Board members who coauthored the report with Pahlka talked about a range of considerations that must be addressed to accommodate remote military workers, like establishing new ways to evaluate workers. MIT professor and CSAIL director Daniela Rus also cautioned that “if you are too isolated, you are less creative or less likely to have out-of-the-box ideas.” Google VP Milo Medin warned that the Pentagon must consider a range of security risks, even for workers handling unclassified data or documents. And Wharton School of Business professor Adam Grant pointed out that the military should assess which jobs are a good fit for remote work and which require physical preference in an office.

In other military and technology news, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) recently suggested the government create a university for training AI talent, a program based in part on public-private partnerships. NSCAI commissioner Jason Matheny last week renewed calls for Congress to work more closely with allies and private companies in order to control the semiconductor pipeline and keep an edge over countries like China. Last month, the Joint AI Center (JAIC), which is structured to act more like a Silicon Valley tech company, signed a $106 million contract to create the Joint Common Foundation, an AI development environment for the military being built with private software.


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