By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Oct. 27, 2021) -- The Defense Department's military and civilian workforce have always worked together to successfully defend the nation, said the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
"They can only continue to do this through a sustained emphasis on workforce development, one that focuses on [the] recruiting, retention, training and education of a workforce that can compete and win against our most advanced competition now and in the future," said Gilbert R. Cisneros Jr. during testimony yesterday before the House Appropriations Committee.
When it comes to bringing in and maintaining a strong uniformed force, Cisneros said diversity plays a central role.
"The department relies on multiple levers to [support] recruiting efforts, including financial incentives and advertising campaigns," he said. "We also recognize that to recruit and retain the best and brightest we must have a diverse and inclusive force representative of the nation they serve."
To that end, he said, the department uses relationships with historically Black colleges and universities and institutions that serve minorities to help those communities better understand the benefits of military service.
The department also regularly reviews how military personnel are compensated to ensure the services remain competitive in attracting the best talent, he said.
One way the department is working to keep the competitive edge its civilian workforce now provides, Cisneros said, is by increasing the use of skills and competency-based assessments in the recruitment of that force.
"In June of this year, we launched the DOD civilian career website to promote civilian employment opportunities and career paths and to debunk [the] perception that DOD service is solely a uniform service," he said.
Congress has also helped out by allowing the department to streamline direct hiring authorities for high-demand skills, he said.
"On September 30, I provided guidance to DOD components on maximizing the use of hiring flexibilities to include direct hiring, which will allow us to attract and recruit civilian talent with expertise in [artificial intelligence], data science and software development," he said.
For developing future talent, the department has also used a variety of internship, scholarship and fellowship programs and has seen great success with the effort, Cisneros said.
"We must also provide adaptive and relevant professional civilian education that emphasizes innovative thinking, ... ingenuity and warfighting concepts; ensures responsibility, management of national defense assets; and builds expertise through a concentration on data-centric digital skills and culture," he said.
Cisneros also told lawmakers it's more important to focus on what the civilian workforce does and the value they bring to the department, rather than on striking a balance between the number of civilian and uniformed personnel.
"I do not believe we can put a ratio or a number on the amount of civilians that we have," he said. "The civilian workforce that we have at the Department of Defense is an integral part of the defense of our nation. They play critical roles and, in the work that we do. ... it's not proper for us to put a number on it."