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Defense Research: Recruitment, management overhaul needed to prevent scientist shortage

by Andrea Widener
November 5, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 45

The Department of Defense will have to confront critical shortages of scientists and engineers if it doesn’t change how it recruits researchers and manages its science and technology enterprise, according to a report by the National Academies. The report finds that DOD scientists and engineers are not being used to their full potential, their career growth is limited, and the hiring process for new workers is slow and opaque.

DOD must make changes so that it is seen as a prestigious career destination for top scientists and engineers to compete with increasing global demand, according to the report, “Assuring the U.S. Department of Defense a Strong Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Workforce.” The agency is not currently among the top places that newly minted research scientists who were surveyed said they would like to work.

“STEM assignments at DOD that involve more procedure and bureaucracy than technical challenge and mission are unlikely to satisfy the high-quality STEM professionals DOD needs to recruit,” says C. D. Mote Jr., professor of engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park. Mote cochaired the committee that authored the report.

Changing the current system is important because although DOD’s current research staff is strong, many of its STEM workers are already eligible for retirement, the report says. This near-retirement group includes 37.6% of more than 6,000 physical scientists employed by DOD.

The report recommends changes to make DOD more competitive with academia and industry, including reevaluating the security clearance system to open up more research jobs to foreign-born workers. It also suggests that Congress reform the H-1B visa system (see page 26) to allow more highly trained, non-American graduates of U.S. universities to work at DOD.


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