Top intel official touts telework, increasing workplace flexibilities

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Intelligence agencies are increasing telework options and other workplace flexibilities in some cases, as they look to better compete with the private sector for scarce talent.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said the intelligence community is looking at ways to make workplaces “more flexible and appealing.” During a keynote address at a July 14 summit hosted by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, Haines cast those efforts as part of a broader push to overcome diversity, equity and inclusion challenges within the intelligence community.

“We’re also committed to addressing work-life balance challenges in the workplace, particularly for caretakers and for parents,” Haines said.

She said the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is offering incentives like loan repayment programs for recent college graduates. ODNI is also increasing telework options, an area in which Haines acknowledged the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has taken the lead in the IC.

“These are the types of small adjustments that are necessary, that can go a long way to meet the preferences of a 21st century workforce while still meeting our mission requirements,” Haines said.

Tonya Wilkerson, deputy director at NGA, said COVID-19 forced the agency to confront questions about whether certain work needed to be classified. Wilkerson said the agency will continue to look at ways to make work more flexible, even as many employees around the country head back into the office.

“A huge factor in terms of where we need to continue to move forward is taking that hard look at, does it have to be in the classified environment? Or can we actually do it in the unclassified environment? Are there opportunities for telework?” Wilkerson said. “Continuing to evolve and change, continuing to evolve in that way, rather than taking steps backwards, is really the space we have to continue to be in.”

NGA’s new $1.7 billion campus in St. Louis, dubbed “Next NGA West,” is expected to further instill those principles by supporting a hybrid workforce with both classified and unclassified work spaces.

NGA officials also hope the planned state-of-the-art facilities will help the spy agency attract and retain a new generation of talent. Slated to open in 2025, Wilkerson said NGA has waited until “the absolute last point in time” to make decisions about the technology going into the facility.

“Why is that important? Because so often given that in the government realm, we have to make those decisions so far in advance, the technology has evolved over time, and we don’t get to take full advantage of that,” she said. “Now, that doesn’t come without some risk. But it was a risk we’re willing to take because as long as you can effectively manage that, I think it was certainly the best way to go.”

Agencies also have mobile technologies in place for work that needs to remain classified on-the-go. The capabilities could make work more flexible for intelligence officers who are often relegated to spending much of their time in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility.

Zachery Tyson Brown, an intelligence researcher within the office of the under secretary of defense for intelligence and security, pointed to classified mobility capabilities that are often reserved for high ranking officials.

“I would like to see that promulgated much more widely across the trusted workforce, because it is a trusted workforce,” he said. “I think the lessons we’ve learned through COVID … we need to make work easier for IC staff, IC officers, and give them the ability to have this stuff that hitherto has been only available to the very senior leaders, for good reasons. But we have the capability, we have a trusted workforce as we go into continuous evaluation for the entire IC. I think this is that’s a good solution to have a far for managing the work life balance.”

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