Finding 6.3. The STEM issue for the DOD is the quality of its workforce, not the quantity available. The DOD needs a suitable share of the most talented STEM professionals. The decisions they make within DOD are highly leveraged, impacting the efforts of very large numbers of people and enterprises both inside and outside the government.
The testimony received by the committee and all of the data collected indicate that the major industrial suppliers of DOD are doing a good job of anticipating traditional and non-traditional STEM needs and acting aggressively to ensure that they have talent available.1 They are also doing their part in supporting activities that will improve the available talent by offering educational opportunities and career development programs as a part of their recruitment and retention process. Of course, the situation could change. Several of the recommendations made in this report will apply to the industrial base as well as to the government.
Finding 6.4. The career development support for the DOD uniformed STEM workforce is excellent, whereas the career development support for the DOD civilian STEM workforce is far less developed. The defense-related industry lies somewhere between them.
As always, the future facing DOD is fraught with many sources of uncertainty. However, the committee does not think that the current level of uncertainty is unprecedented.
The committee was made aware of various lists of emerging new technologies that might have potential value to DOD, including one from ASDRE.2 While not all lists are the same, they are consistent enough to use as a basis for addressing the question of uncertainty and how to deal with it. In the committee’s judgment, all of the listed technologies promise future value, but it is not clear that any of them are likely to be, by themselves, game-changers, as was the case for nuclear weapons, digital electronics, and information systems.
In the face of the uncertainties in how technology will evolve, as well as the larger questions posed by geopolitical events, there is a temptation to try to forecast the future and take significant actions now in anticipation of that future. However, the committee lacks confidence that these technology forecasts can be accurate enough to rely on as a strong basis for planning. The committee is supported in this skepticism by noting the nation’s past demonstrated inability to provide accurate forecasts.3 The committee believes that this lack of confidence in forecasting argues for a more incremental approach, as well as for personnel policies that will increase the department’s flexibility in adapting to unforeseen requirements. The committee thinks that the estimated sources of uncertainty described above are very likely to provide sufficient warning to permit an adequate incremental response to technology exploitation.
DOD should invest in emerging technologies with levels and priorities indicated by an assessment of their potential value to DOD. These investments will advance knowledge, mature understanding, and develop expertise in new fields. As these emerging technologies prove their value and increase in importance, more money and people will flow to the fields through DOD and congressional appropriations. The situation will evolve over time, and there will not be an unforeseen need for large workforce changes. The firms in the industrial base will use
1 See, for example, pp. 40-44 of National Research Council (2012).
2 See, for example, pp. 8-18 of National Research Council (2012).
3 See, for example, Anders (2008).