5
Science and Technology Workforce

In the last 40 years, at least 20 studies have examined the health of government S&T laboratories. All of these studies agree in general with a conclusion of one of the earliest studies that “no matter how heavily the government relies on private contracting, it should never lose a strong internal competence in research and development” (McNamara et al., 1962). Most of the studies identified similar problems and offered similar solutions, but few changes were effected in the long term. Recent studies have again raised the alarm about the quality and retention of technical personnel and have recommended remedial actions to address the problem (e.g., CSAF, 1999; DSB, 1998). The recommendations in the present report support these efforts.

DECLINING NUMBER OF DoD S&T PERSONNEL

The number of government S&T personnel in the service laboratories has decreased over the last several years (see Figure 5–1).1 Whether the data are based on “S&T” personnel, “science and engineering” personnel, or “RDT&E” personnel, the trends are similar. The declines are partly a result of the deliberate post-Cold War DoD downsizing; however, the decrease in Air Force S&T personnel has been greater than that attributable to downsizing alone. Figure 5–2 shows that, from 1996 to 2000, the percentage decrease in AFRL personnel was twice that of the DoD or the Air Force as a whole. The decrease at all laboratories has been highest for personnel with advanced degrees. Attrition results mainly from the retirement of senior, experienced personnel and from the departure of younger, highly motivated S&T workers seeking new challenges in a better, more stable work environment.

In addition to attrition and deliberate downsizing, other factors have contributed to staffing deficiencies in DoD’s S&T workforce. They include low morale, a result of reductions, uncertainties, and year-to-year variability in S&T program funding. High-quality scientists and engineers leave jobs when research and engineering challenges and opportunities are eliminated, when their work may not be applied or appreciated, or when uncertainties and instabilities increase to the point that their welfare or the welfare of their families is threatened.

Another reason for staffing deficiencies is the attraction of higher salaries and other compensation in the private sector. Incentives to leave are intensified when challenges and opportunities are plentiful in a growing, high-technology economy (such as the economy that the United States experienced during the 1990s). Figure 5–3 shows a gap of 25 to 30 percent ($10,000 to $20,000 per year) in starting salaries for personnel in industrial versus DoD laboratories as of 1998.

Civil Service rules governing the recruiting and management of government personnel also add to the difficulty of hiring and retaining the highest-quality DoD S&T personnel. Hiring ceilings during

1  

Since the statement of task asked the committee to examine the in-house (government) S&T workforce only, the committee was not provided data on on-base support contractor personnel, who complement the in-house workforce. The committee notes, however, that the reductions in DoD S&T funding also put downward pressure on the support contractor workforce.



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Review of the U.S. Department of Defence Air, Space, and Supporting Information Systems Science and Technology Program 5 Science and Technology Workforce In the last 40 years, at least 20 studies have examined the health of government S&T laboratories. All of these studies agree in general with a conclusion of one of the earliest studies that “no matter how heavily the government relies on private contracting, it should never lose a strong internal competence in research and development” (McNamara et al., 1962). Most of the studies identified similar problems and offered similar solutions, but few changes were effected in the long term. Recent studies have again raised the alarm about the quality and retention of technical personnel and have recommended remedial actions to address the problem (e.g., CSAF, 1999; DSB, 1998). The recommendations in the present report support these efforts. DECLINING NUMBER OF DoD S&T PERSONNEL The number of government S&T personnel in the service laboratories has decreased over the last several years (see Figure 5–1).1 Whether the data are based on “S&T” personnel, “science and engineering” personnel, or “RDT&E” personnel, the trends are similar. The declines are partly a result of the deliberate post-Cold War DoD downsizing; however, the decrease in Air Force S&T personnel has been greater than that attributable to downsizing alone. Figure 5–2 shows that, from 1996 to 2000, the percentage decrease in AFRL personnel was twice that of the DoD or the Air Force as a whole. The decrease at all laboratories has been highest for personnel with advanced degrees. Attrition results mainly from the retirement of senior, experienced personnel and from the departure of younger, highly motivated S&T workers seeking new challenges in a better, more stable work environment. In addition to attrition and deliberate downsizing, other factors have contributed to staffing deficiencies in DoD’s S&T workforce. They include low morale, a result of reductions, uncertainties, and year-to-year variability in S&T program funding. High-quality scientists and engineers leave jobs when research and engineering challenges and opportunities are eliminated, when their work may not be applied or appreciated, or when uncertainties and instabilities increase to the point that their welfare or the welfare of their families is threatened. Another reason for staffing deficiencies is the attraction of higher salaries and other compensation in the private sector. Incentives to leave are intensified when challenges and opportunities are plentiful in a growing, high-technology economy (such as the economy that the United States experienced during the 1990s). Figure 5–3 shows a gap of 25 to 30 percent ($10,000 to $20,000 per year) in starting salaries for personnel in industrial versus DoD laboratories as of 1998. Civil Service rules governing the recruiting and management of government personnel also add to the difficulty of hiring and retaining the highest-quality DoD S&T personnel. Hiring ceilings during 1   Since the statement of task asked the committee to examine the in-house (government) S&T workforce only, the committee was not provided data on on-base support contractor personnel, who complement the in-house workforce. The committee notes, however, that the reductions in DoD S&T funding also put downward pressure on the support contractor workforce.

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Review of the U.S. Department of Defence Air, Space, and Supporting Information Systems Science and Technology Program FIGURE 5–1 Number (in thousands) of service in-house RDT&E personnel, FY90 to FY98. SOURCE: Tangney, 2000. downsizing, coupled with time-consuming Civil Service hiring and approval processes for new personnel, make recruiting new scientists and engineers difficult. During downsizing, reductions in force (RIFs) affect mainly younger personnel, who often have fewer years of service than some older workers who may be marginally productive but who have attained Civil Service career status and are difficult to remove under Civil Service rules. Civil Service attrition and RIF processes tend to result in a workforce populated with older workers not yet eligible to retire who are not being offered opportunities elsewhere. The dearth of new personnel caused by downsizing-driven attrition, RIFs, and hiring restrictions is especially detrimental to S&T programs. New personnel not only are a primary source of new ideas and new knowledge but also represent a means of ensuring the continuity of a strong internal competence in S&T. The older workforce has a higher average number of years of service and so will be eligible for retirement sooner. This situation leaves S&T programs vulnerable to a mass exodus of workers at one time. AFRL could lose 25 to 30 percent of its science and engineering personnel to retirements in the next five years (CSAF, 1999). DECLINING AIR FORCE MILITARY S&T PERSONNEL For decades, DoD’s policy has been to assign uniformed personnel to S&T activities, both in laborato-

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Review of the U.S. Department of Defence Air, Space, and Supporting Information Systems Science and Technology Program FIGURE 5–2 Percentage change in total Department of Defense, Air Force, and Air Force Research Laboratory personnel from FY96 to FY00 (AFRL data do not include Brooks Air Force Base and minor installations for which complete data were not available). SOURCE: Gessel, 2000. FIGURE 5–3 Cash compensation for Department of Defense RDT&E personnel versus industry RDT&E personnel as of 1998. SOURCE: DSB, 1998.

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Review of the U.S. Department of Defence Air, Space, and Supporting Information Systems Science and Technology Program ries and in technical oversight positions, with the obvious benefits of providing knowledge and insight on technological capabilities to service officers and providing operational perspective to researchers. Many technically trained officers are also assigned to the acquisition branch. A significant source of Air Force officers with advanced technical degrees is the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT), located at Wright-Patterson AFB. AFIT is the Air Force’s accredited, in-house, resident graduate school awarding Air Force officers master’s and doctor of philosophy degrees in several science and engineering areas. Since AFIT first granted resident degrees in 1956, it has awarded 920 bachelor of science, 13,406 master of science, and 333 doctor of philosophy degrees (AFIT, 2000). In addition to its in-house students, AFIT also oversees students who are sent to civilian educational institutions for advanced technical degrees. During the 1990s, the Air Force contemplated closing the in-house school at Wright-Patterson. A key factor was cost. Congressional concern arose that was reinforced by the declining size of the Air Force S&T workforce. The Air Force decided not to close AFIT; however, AFIT remains a congressional interest item, and it has congressional support. This military S&T workforce has been experiencing problems similar to those experienced by the civilian workforce. Young, highly motivated officers with advanced scientific and engineering degrees are affected by the same factors that affect civilian S&T workers, including low morale and plentiful challenges and opportunities outside the military. In addition, there appears to be a perception among some military officers that S&T assignments provide limited career opportunities, or are even detrimental to their careers. For example, only nine current Air Force general officers have ever served a tour in an Air Force laboratory (CSAF, 1999). As a result, the number of officers seeking such assignments has dwindled. In 1999, only half of the allocated positions for uniformed personnel at AFRL were filled (CSAF, 1999). RESULTS OF TWO RECENT REPORTS Two recent reports focused sharply on these problems related to the decrease in DoD and Air Force S&T personnel (CSAF, 1999; DSB, 1998). In a report issued in 1998, the Defense Science Board concluded, “The Department [of Defense] has commissioned several dozen studies of this problem extending over several decades. All these studies have reached the same conclusion, namely that there are severe difficulties in maintaining technical staff quality in the Service laboratories under the present Civil Service system” (DSB, 1998). Both recommended making modifications to the Civil Service system. Both examined technical staffing alternatives, including government-owned, contractor-operated (GOCO) arrangements; government leadership, private-sector staffing arrangements (DSB report); and government-owned, collaborator-assisted (GOCA) arrangements (Air Force report). Both reports discussed making use of private-sector personnel on a rotating basis through Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) agreements or on a contract basis. The DSB report strongly recommended that OSD and the services “staff a majority of their S&T management and execution technical positions with individuals provided from the private sector under the Interagency and Personnel Act [sic] and a reinstated Public Law 313 (1947).” (Public Law 313 permitted the services to establish certain positions for important DoD R&D functions, make such appointments without competitive examination, and pay market rates for these positions. Public Law 313 was superseded by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (P.L. 95–454).) The DSB report identified the high quality of DARPA’s technical managers as being among the key reasons for DARPA’s enjoying the greatest S&T management success in DoD, and it noted that more than 50 percent of DARPA’s managers are engaged for limited terms from outside the Civil Service system. The DSB report compared private-sector S&T personnel practices to Civil Service practices to show that the Civil Service practices were biased, relatively speaking, toward achieving a lower-quality workforce. Therefore, IPA assignments and similar arrangements that rotate high-quality, private-sector S&T personnel through DoD laboratories improve the quality of the DoD S&T workforce and, thereby, the quality of the DoD S&T program. The Air Force report recommended moving AFRL toward a GOCA model: “The key idea is to have a significant core group of excellent civil servants who bring continuity coupled in an integrated team with excellent collaborators who bring agility and fresh ideas” (CSAF, 1999). The non-Civil Service collaborators would be in the AFRL workforce for a shorter term than the core civilian workers and would include postdoctoral associates, term-appointment and tempo-

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Review of the U.S. Department of Defence Air, Space, and Supporting Information Systems Science and Technology Program rary-appointment personnel, personnel on IPA assignment, military officers, and employees of private-sector S&T organizations. Like the DSB report, the Air Force report viewed the outside collaborators as bringing with them their home organizations’ standards of excellence. The Air Force report also observed that Civil Service rules work against DoD S&T workforce quality and agreed with the DSB recommendation that 50 percent of AFRL’s workforce should be provided by rotating outside Civil Service sources. The Air Force report also stated, however, that personnel mix alone is not the answer to strengthening the AFRL workforce. It noted that although AFRL has already evolved to a personnel mix in which approximately 50 percent of the in-house S&T workforce are non-Civil Service employees, deficiencies in AFRL performance and user impact still exist. To ensure success in a transformation to excellence, AFRL leadership needs to be given the authority to make the changes needed to transform the workforce, including the authority to modify Civil Service practices that limit the quality of the S&T workforce. The foundation for the GOCA model is a core group of excellent civil servants. Many current Civil Service rules work against achieving that excellence. SECTION 246 DoD has undertaken several initiatives intended to maintain or improve the quality and efficiency of the S&T workforce. Section 246 of the 1999 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 105–261) provides for a three-year pilot program for revitalizing the service laboratories and centers through innovative, more business-like operations and encouragement of working relationships with academia and private entities. DoD has also selected pilot laboratories to set goals for achieving “world-class” status. The directors have the authority to waive restrictions not required by law and have been asked to identify other restrictions that might be candidates for change through legislation or regulation. A central feature of the program is temporary appointments of industry personnel to management positions in the laboratories and an increase in the number of technical experts that can be hired on temporary IPA-like arrangements. Industrial-level salaries and benefits have also reduced the barriers to recruitment. Many restrictions on workforce retention and shaping, the use of experts and consultants, and hiring have been waived (Tangney, 2000). CONCLUSIONS Factors Inhibiting Hiring Conclusion 5–1. Downsizing, noncompetitive salaries, cumbersome hiring and downsizing practices, and other factors have reduced the effectiveness of the air and space S&T workforce. DoD (as well as the Air Force) has begun to take measures to revitalize the S&T workforce, which should help the situation in the near term. In the long term, changes to the Civil Service system may be necessary. Analyses Undertaken Conclusion 5–2. The Defense Science Board and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force have undertaken comprehensive analyses of the situation and have recommended ways to solve the problem. RECOMMENDATIONS Take Opportunities to Strengthen S&T Staff Under the Law Recommendation 5–1. The U.S. Department of Defense should seize the opportunity offered in Section 246 of the National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 105–261) to strengthen its science and technology staff and other technical personnel. Change Civil Service Regulations Recommendation 5–2. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) should formulate reasonable changes to Civil Service regulations that would mitigate staffing problems in the long term and should promote them to Congress and the Office of Personnel Management. DoD’s report to Congress on the status of its Section 246 initiatives could be a vehicle for promoting these changes. Extend Section 246, P.L. 105–261 Recommendation 5–3. The U.S. Department of Defense should request that Congress extend the Section

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Review of the U.S. Department of Defence Air, Space, and Supporting Information Systems Science and Technology Program 246 initiatives beyond their three-year limit by another three years to allow adequate time to implement and evaluate the effects of the modified procedures. Make World-Class Research the Goal Recommendation 5–4. The U.S. Department of Defense should continue to pursue world-class status for the service laboratories (including developing criteria or measures to assess such status), not only to obtain the highest-quality results from its research, but also to attract superior scientific and engineering personnel who want to work where the best research is done. Encourage Career Opportunities Through R&D Recommendation 5–5. Career Air Force officers with the requisite backgrounds should be encouraged to serve tours of duty at the Air Force Research Laboratory or other laboratories and to pursue advanced technical degrees. Assignments to a research laboratory should be considered a positive step in consideration for promotion to general officer rank. Promote S&T Career Officers Recommendation 5–6. As a further inducement to career officers, the Air Force should provide organizational billets for these officers at the highest level of the Air Force. REFERENCES AFIT (Air Force Institute of Technology). 2000. AFIT Fact Sheet. Available online at <http://www.afit.edu/afitinfo/factsheet> (last viewed on June 25, 2001). CSAF (Chief of Staff of the Air Force). 1999. Science and Technology Workforce for the 21st Century, July 1999. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Air Force. DSB (Defense Science Board). 1998. Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Defense Science and Technology Base for the 21st Century, June 1998. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Defense. Gessel, M. 2000. Congressional Perspectives: Defense Science and Technology Workforce, presentation by Michael Gessel, executive assistant to Congressman Tony Hall, to the Committee on Review of Department of Defense Air and Space Systems Science and Technology Program, Holiday Inn, Georgetown, Washington, D.C., January 24, 2000 . McNamara, R.S., J.E.Webb, J.W.Macy, G.T.Seaborg, A.T.Waterman, J.B.Wiesner, and D.E.Bell. 1962. Report to the President on Government Contracting for R&D. Washington, D.C.: Office of the White House Press Secretary. Tangney, J.F. 2000. Scientists and Engineers in DoD RDT&E, presentation by J.F.Tangney, special assistant for laboratory management, to the Committee on Review of the Department of Defense Air and Space Systems Science and Technology Program, National Research Council, Washington, D.C., January 24, 2000.