Pentagon Publishes Digital-Age Personnel Strategy

The U.S. military’s workforce can’t succeed in the long run unless it fully embraces the digital age, overhauls its lagging information technology systems, and pursues a more flexible and diverse workplace, according to the Pentagon’s new personnel strategy.

The document from Pentagon personnel and readiness boss Matthew P. Donovan enshrines many of the realizations the Defense Department has come to over the past several years. He previewed the path forward last month at the Air Force Association’s virtual Air, Space & Cyber Conference.

“The department’s success depends on a digitally savvy military and civilian workforce that can operate within a security environment fueled by groundbreaking technology, and exploit information as the connective tissue to dominate in competition and conflict,” the strategy said.

Its five pillars include offering “robust [IT] infrastructure, data management, and business processes;” faster and more forward-looking strategy and policy decisions; a modern and cross-cutting education and training enterprise; and a force that is safe, inclusive, and as technologically advanced as the private sector.

The strategy acknowledges that overcoming DOD bureaucracy to create a 21st-century workplace “requires forward thinking, and a willingness to break from convention and try bold ideas.”

DOD officials worry about the prospects of building an effective military that is large and skilled enough to take on global powers like Russia and China, as well as suppressing violent extremist groups in the Middle East and Africa, among other military missions that increasingly depend on digital supremacy. The Pentagon is competing for so-called “digital natives” with private companies that offer more money to prospects without the requirements of military service, such as frequent moves and physical fitness standards.

“The expectations and behaviors of emerging generations continue to evolve during a period when there is a declining propensity for military service,” the strategy added. “Additionally, the pool of eligible candidates for military service in the U.S. continues to decline from today, where only 29 percent of the current 34 million of 17- to 24-year-olds qualify for military service.”

Each of the services will attack the problem in different ways. The Air Force is working through a long-term campaign to outsource and revamp its IT systems such as email and teleworking tools, and has updated its policies to work better for women and minorities who face unique hurdles to retention, among other efforts.

The Pentagon can no longer do what it’s always done, but officials argue there is one aspect the private sector can’t offer: “The calling to a noble profession is what enables our people to become self-actualized and find real meaning in their careers,” Donovan said last month.