Look Who’s Worried About the NSA’s 96 Percent Retention Rate

Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) Adm. Michael Rogers testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

AA Font size + Print

Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) Adm. Michael Rogers testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015.

It might seem counterintuitive that someone maintaining a workforce of 30,000 coders and analysts is concerned about too much loyal talent.

An unlikely figure is worried that the National Security Agency managed to hang to more than 90 percent of its science, technology, engineering and math whizzes last year: NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers.

With claims of 545,000 unfilled U.S. IT jobs, it might seem counterintuitive that a leader maintaining a workforce of 30,000 coders and data analysts is concerned about too much loyal talent. 

But with such low turnover, Silicon Valley and other parts of the private sector might outperform NSA in snapping up fresh talent, Rogers explains. Agencywide, the retention rate was 96.7 percent in 2015, while less than 10 percent of “high-end” computer scientists and mathematicians left, he said. 

With a 3.7 percent attrition rate, it would 30 years to “recapitalize” the NSA workforce, Rogers noted. 

How do you make sure that we maintain our agility, our technical proficiency and our expertise across a broad set of problem sets if we’re only bringing three percent of the workforce in a year?” Rogers said in an address at the Atlantic Council last week.

The departing NSA personnel included retirees and people headed for jobs outside the agency. 

The reasons employees stay put stir pride, Rogers said, but he would prefer there be an exchange program where startup upstarts and intelligence veterans can rotate in and out of government.

They love the mission. They love the ethos. They love the culture and they believe in what they are doing,” Rogers said, but “how can we bring in people from the private sector who would work with us for a year or two?”

For good reason, we don’t talk much about the particulars.
Adm. Mike Rogers, director of the NSA

Cybersecurity training programs might need an upgrade to help this cause.

NSA-certified colleges and universities that offer special courses to prepare co-eds for cybersecurity jobs in both the public and private sector lack cachet, according to according to an October 2015 report from the National Academy of Public Administration on the government’s role in cybersecurity education. 

Private-sector employers don’t see” these so-called centers of academic excellence, or CAEs “as a meaningful credential,” wrote the report’s co-authors — former Pentagon Chief Information Officer David Wennergren; president of Barquin International; Shelley Metzenbaum, a senior adviser to the Volcker Alliance and former White House budget official; and Alan Shark, executive director of the Public Technology Institute. “Some of the country’s most prestigious universities that produce technically accomplished graduates with computer security knowledge are not CAEs.”

Today, Rogers’ strategy for keeping NSA on the cutting edge is to establish teams, comprising experienced NSA personnel and newly hired junior workers, who can look at challenges from unique life perspectives, he said. 

Relying on youth for new ideas carries risks too.

Last April, Sara Ratcliff, director of the human capital management office in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, said a quarter of millennials are turning over in the spy community.

The talent under age 30 want “great technology; they want good spaces to work in; they want lots of development opportunities; they really want and expect all of those things,” NSA’s human resources technical director, John Yelnosky, said at the time. “And there are employers who are more advanced than we are in providing that whole package.”

There is acknowledgment that misgivings about the agency’s surveillance techniques might deter techies in the nonprofit and corporate worlds from considering a stint at NSA

One of the things I think that has hurt us in this trust thing is No. 1 is the nature of intelligence,” Rogers said. ”For good reason, we don’t talk much about the particulars. Even as people with very legitimate concerns, law abiding citizens, are listening to what I say, ISIL and a whole lot of other groups are listening to what I say. We’re always mindful of that in a public forum.” 

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from DefenseOne.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

    Download
  • Military Readiness: Ensuring Readiness with Analytic Insight

    To determine military readiness, decision makers in defense organizations must develop an understanding of complex inter-relationships among readiness variables. For example, how will an anticipated change in a readiness input really impact readiness at the unit level and, equally important, how will it impact readiness outside of the unit? Learn how to form a more sophisticated and accurate understanding of readiness and make decisions in a timely and cost-effective manner.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

    Download
  • Information Operations: Retaking the High Ground

    Today's threats are fluent in rapidly evolving areas of the Internet, especially social media. Learn how military organizations can secure an advantage in this developing arena.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.