How to Beat Private Competition

The Pentagon needs more freedom to recruit civilians, and it must end undeserved criticism on a force that has been a “political punching bag” for too long, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said. While the Pentagon isn’t Google, it can still recruit the best civilians if it can change the way it does things, said Carter when unveiling details of his “Force of the Future” initiative on Thursday. The Pentagon will call on Congress to let it directly hire civilian employees from college campuses, instead of pointing college students to job sites and hoping they can wait out the long government hiring process. “Make no mistake, this is going to be huge,” Carter said. “I can’t emphasize that enough.”

Under the current system, the best students would likely receive offers immediately while the Defense Department is forced to wait through governmental red tape. The Pentagon also wants to be able to work with private companies more closely with a new two-way talent exchange program. This would create a formal process for a civilian to work with a company with a similar job. Carter used the example of a US Transportation Command civilian going to spend six months working at a company such as Amazon or FedEx to “see what we might be able to learn.” The Defense Department would then host employees in return. Lastly, Carter said Congress needs to make military civilian maternity and paternity leave paid instead of unpaid. “This is important for retaining civilian talent, especially since we want to retain people who are experienced but not at the end of their careers, which is exactly the time people are having families.” (See also: Recruiting the Best Cyber Operators.)