Sen. Akaka plans legislation to shore up intelligence workforce

Predicting a wave of retirements among intelligence and military officials that could put the nation's security at risk, Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, said he plans to introduce a bill to beef up recruitment and retention efforts at national security agencies.

The bill -- modeled after one he introduced in 2003 that failed -- would expand student loan programs and national security fellowships, and rotation programs that would prepare mid-level employees for management positions by giving them assignments in other departments.

"Recruiting, retaining and developing the next generation of national security employees is critically important both to our current operations and in light of the impending federal retirement wave that we expect," Akaka said on Wednesday during a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia, which he chairs. According to Akaka, 90 percent of senior executives in the federal government will be eligible to retire within the next 10 years.

According to Ron Sanders, chief human capital officer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, a rotation program must involve senior leadership to work. "The intelligence community has been blessed with senior leaders who understand that you have to invest in the long-term needs of the workforce," he said at the hearing.

Sanders told lawmakers about 3,000 intelligence employees are on joint-duty assignments, but applications for the assignments remain low on the ODNI Web site. He said departments should create a system of collaboration to overcome resistance to giving up employees to assignments at other agencies.

He also recommended stronger employee performance measurements and more emphasis on governmentwide training.

Intelligence and counterterrorism forces are severely lacking in language skills and cultural training, according to Bob Graham, the former democratic senator from Florida who chairs the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. "We need to find those who can speak the languages of the regions of the world, [and] understand the history and the cultures of these regions," Graham said at the hearing. "This is a goal which must be clearly articulated."

A lack of well-trained intelligence and military officers savvy in regional languages and cultures who can extract critical information on the ground puts the nation and the world at risk of a biological, chemical or nuclear attack, he said.

Akaka said he and his staff will seek guidance from agency officials before drawing up legislation. His 2003 bill, the Homeland Security Workforce Act, sought to strengthen student loan repayment programs and national security fellowships, and create an officer rotation program. It passed the Senate, but languished in the House.

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