ADVICE+DISSENT: Intelligence File Movin' On Up

Promotion-hungry intelligence employees get new rules of the road.

Attention, rising intelligence stars: Don't get too comfortable. You might be your agency's darling analyst, or a code cracker extraordinaire, but to move up the intelligence ladder, you'll have to change your perspective, so to speak.

In May, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence enacted new rules for joint duty assignments. To qualify for senior intelligence positions, employees now must work in top-level jobs at more than one agency. The directive, Human Capital Joint Intelligence Community Duty Assignments, is a major step toward breaking up fiefdoms and creating a common culture. Officials are spreading the word to start looking for joint duty jobs now.

The directive defines a joint duty assignment as the permanent assignment of a civilian employee from a position in one intelligence organization to another that "requires and/or provides appropriate joint duty experience." Temporary details also are included, and last anywhere from 12 to 36 months.

To decide which jobs provide-and require-joint duty experience, officials divided the intelligence community workforce into the DNI's office, and then "everything else," says Ronald Sanders, the chief human capital officer at DNI.

Every senior-level DNI staffer eventually must have joint duty experience. Fortunately, all senior jobs also provide it. "We don't want to run off our most talented GS-15s, those folks who are competitive for the senior service," Sanders explains. "We don't want to change the ground rules and pull the rug out from under them."

As for the rest of the intelligence community, senior-level positions also will require joint duty. Agencies will be allowed to nominate positions in their own ranks that offer joint duty opportunities. "My best bet is we'll identify a couple thousand that are legitimately joint in nature," including DNI slots, Sanders says.

Typical positions affected will be analysts, intelligence collectors, engineers, and human resources and finance specialists, according to Sanders. (Administrative and military personnel are not covered under the directive.) The DNI will phase in the new rules over the coming years, starting with "the top echelons of our organizations early next year," he says.

Officials assume there will be exceptions for positions that are, as Sanders describes them, "one of a kind, or part of a very small, select organization," such as a senior cryptanalyst at the National Security Agency. "But at the end of the day . . . your chances [for promotion] are going to be diminished if you don't have" some joint credentials, he notes.

That doesn't mean there will be enough positions to go around. Indeed, the number will be smaller than the pool of potential candidates. Managers will select employees based on a competitive process.

As for who will be chosen, the DNI is looking for the next generation's leaders. "Obviously, this is, at its root, a leadership development program," Sanders says. "Our objective here is to have leaders with a broad perspective."

Intelligence mavens are cautiously optimistic. "If this works, it's one of the great DNI accomplishments," says William Nolte, who directed education and training programs at the DNI's office. "One way to transform American intelligence is to convince people that their future is tied to the community and not to a single agency."

"Promoting rotational assignments can be a particularly effective way of piercing bureaucratic barriers," says Steven Aftergood, an intelligence expert with the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, which obtained the personnel directive after a Freedom of Information Act request. "In the past, such rotations have been seen as a detour from professional advancement in one's home agency." The new policy makes it clear those days are over, Aftergood says.

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