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Assessing the Overall Health of the Unit: Recruitment and Retention In speaking with Air Force CMF managers, we learned that the two most pervasive problems facing IT personnel management and retention were the long top-secret clearance processing time and the high operational tempo. The length of the top-secret clearance process complicated the training and assignment of qualified IT personnel by preventing trained individuals from beginning or completing their jobs. Although the paperwork for the clearance process started at the schoolhouse, it invariably finished at the assignment over a year later. In many cases, personnel arrive at a billet without their clearance, and for a large portion of their time in billet, they work on tasks that do not require the clearance. When cleared, they may soon be sent to their next assignment, not having done the job for which they were trained and hence with limited preparation for their next job. Airmen denied a clearance must be reclassified. Consequently, Air Force CMF managers stressed that recruiters must do a specific screening for occupations coded as sensitive, to minimize the odds of recruiting someone who ultimately will not be cleared.
Air Force intelligence specialists were also difficult to retain because of their high operational tempo and length of deployment. These factors often deterred intelligence specialists, particularly image analysts and linguists, from continuing their service.
Reclassification was not seen as offering a significant means of improving retention.
Because the intelligence career fields were always “chronic/critical,” the Air Force allowed airmen to reclassify into intelligence but controlled the grade for reclassification. The preferred threshold for reclassification was E-5, for example.
Recruitment and Retention: Incentives for Enlistment and Reenlistment As in the Army, the Air Force interviewees reported that reenlistment bonuses were an important retention tool in the signals and intelligence specialties. In fact, the reenlistment bonuses in the signals specialties were among the highest in the Air Force, ranging up to $35,000–40,000, depending on base pay and length of reenlistment. Intelligence specialties, where retention was a chronic problem, also had reenlistment bonuses.
Although reenlistment bonuses have proven effective in reducing the loss of midcareer personnel, they did not reach into the years of service just before retirement eligibility.
For example, interviewees were concerned about the lack of reenlistment bonuses after 16 Evidence from Field Interviews on the Management of Enlisted IT Occupations 35 years of service, noting that even the draw of retirement benefits was not sufficient, in some cases, to ensure reenlistment. Those most directly affected by this limit appear to have been the technical master sergeants, whose expertise and experience would be extremely difficult to replace. Furthermore, many CMF managers noted that the enlistment bonuses could be bested by private-sector offers.9 Personnel Management and Retention: Incentives for Education and Training In exploring education and training opportunities in the Air Force, our interviews suggested that the Air Force’s career development system is made effective by its multi-tiered structure, which includes both theoretical and hands-on training. The first level of training is the formal aspect, imparted through scheduled on-base schooling required for promotion and for the occupational requirements of specific billets. The second level is on-the-job training and career development, which augment the formal training programs. However, interviewees also reported that the value of the programs as incentives is limited by the difficulty airmen have in actually enrolling in certain courses and by the lack of special pay upon completing the courses.
Training programs in the Air Force take a variety of forms. For example, several programs use mobile training teams with four instructors and that can teach up to 12 students at a time. The mobile training teams provide refresher courses as well as training for new systems. In addition, the Air Force has a surge capacity to escalate the training tempo if needed.
During the air operations in Kosovo, for example, the Air Force introduced a theaterdeployable communications set, which airmen and members of the Air National Guard had to know how operate prior to deployment. Within six weeks, the Air Force had the equipment and the instructors in place for training, and all deploying personnel were trained before departing for Kosovo.
As in the Army, skill certification in the Air Force was described as an important education/training issue. Interviewees reported that the Air Force generally did not pay for skill certification through Air Force funds. However, there was ongoing work to establish more sophisticated training programs. For example, for signals specialties, a structured onthe-job training program was being developed at Scott Air Force Base. The program would utilize a contractor to provide training for a variety of commercial applications. The contractor would provide airmen who completed the course with a voucher for certification. It was anticipated that this program would be available for a limited number of airmen. Even though certification would have tremendous value to these airmen, interviewees said that the airmen would not incur an additional service obligation unless the courses were more than 20 weeks long.
However, like their counterparts in the Army, Air Force CMF managers said that skill certification brings with it the issue of contractor poaching of qualified airmen. PoachSome progress has been made toward addressing this problem for officers through the implementation of a Critical Skills Retention Bonus (CSRB) program. This bonus was introduced in the FY01 National Defense Authorization Act. The CSRB program applies to five “critical specialties,” including developmental engineering, science, acquisition program management, communications-information systems, and civil engineering. These five career fields were chosen because of their importance to mission completion and their relatively low retention rates. The bonus applies to officers with between four and thirteen years of commissioned service and offers them a bonus of $10,000 per year for committing to an additional four-year contract. This program demonstrates the recognition among defense officials of the need to offer larger reenlistment incentives in critical career fields. The Air Force has been relatively more active than the other services in its use of this bonus program (see Banda, 2002).
36 Attracting the Best: How the Military Competes for Information Technology Personnel ing occurs actively and passively. Even if there was no direct pitch, the airmen could easily observe that the instructor was more highly compensated, had a more flexible work schedule and workplace environment, and had significantly fewer responsibilities.
Although the training opportunities for Air Force intelligence specialties appear extensive, interviewees also reported that training courses were not accessible enough to allow them to contribute centrally to personnel development. Intelligence specialties have many classes available to airmen who want to acquire additional skills. For the most part, initial training for Air Force intelligence specialties occurs at Goodfellow Air Force Base. There are also some joint training opportunities at Ft. Huachuca and language training at the Language School in Monterey. Some courses are considered in promotion decisions, such as the advanced signal analysis course. There are also opportunities for a three-year internship at the Defense Intelligence Agency, but this is a highly competitive opportunity and requires a three-year commitment.
There appear to be several obstacles that prevent airmen from pursuing higher training. For example, we were told that the Air Force rarely let airmen attend these classes because of critical manning shortfalls in this area. Furthermore, Air Force intelligence CMF managers indicated that airmen who acquire specialized training, such as those who go through the joint imagery analyst course, could in some cases become a problem to manage because they are so specialized.
As in the Army, the Air Force uses incentives to induce airmen to seek further training. For example, there are incentives to reclassify into signals specialties. According to one CMF manager, reclassifications into signals rose during the economic boom in part because of the perception that these specialties paid more in the private sector. The same CMF manager also noted that reclassification into the signals AFSC is a means of obtaining soldiers from other services who are exhausted by the PERSTEMPO or OPTEMPO of their originating service. Thus, this CMF manager suggested that the lifestyle of the Air Force signals career field was an attractive occupation for some soldiers.
Promotion is another means of rewarding and managing intelligence personnel. Because intelligence specialties are on the list of “chronic/critical” specialties, they promote more quickly than other career fields. This can encourage potential recruits to enter IT and intelligence fields. However, obtaining a promotion requires considerable effort. Promotions are based on competitive test scores, and many test takers in intelligence have college degrees.
The Air Force has also made significant use of the Information Assurance Scholarship Program (IASP). This scholarship is offered to individuals pursuing a bachelors, masters, or doctoral degree in information assurance disciplines. To be eligible, an individual must be at least a junior at a designated Center for Academic Excellence (CAE) and must maintain a sufficient grade point average. Military personnel and civilian DoD employees are also eligible for the scholarship. IASP students begin their studies at the Information Resources Management College at National Defense University and then transfer to another CAE, the Air Force Institute of Technology, or the Naval Postgraduate School. By accepting the scholarship, recipients agree to serve a period of obligated service (one year for each academic year of scholarship) in a DoD information assurance position. 10 IASP gives individuals an incentive to earn a degree in IT-related fields and ensures the services a steady inflow of trained personnel.
10 Information Assurance Scholarship Program: Program Overview, www.denfselink.mil/nii/iasp, accessed November 2003.
Evidence from Field Interviews on the Management of Enlisted IT Occupations 37 While some incentives encourage personnel to seek additional training, interviewees said that the absence of special pay and the lack of a link between additional skills and enhanced military career opportunities somewhat limit the appeal of the training and development program to airmen. Some of these limits reflect the fact that the services base their training quotas on the skills required to fill specific job requirements and do not fund the explicit use of training as a retention tool. CMF managers said there is no special pay for acquiring additional training, excepting foreign language proficiency pay ($100 to $300 per month), which is given to airmen who learn another language and maintain their skill level in it. In addition, there is also special duty assignment pay for human intelligence occupations, including debriefers, but these are low-density occupations (there are 48 such occupations in the Air Force). However, our interviews and research suggest that perhaps a more direct use of training as a retention tool might be an effective use of funds.
But while interviewees noted that some IT personnel used opportunities gained in the Air Force to seek private-sector employment, the CMF managers who we spoke with also noted that some airmen who leave in pursuit of high pay in the private sector ultimately fail to find it and return to the Air Force. Our interviewees said that such individuals are “object lessons” to others considering such moves.
The incentive to seek additional training is sometimes also undermined by the fact that acquiring additional skills does not increase the variety of assignments available to the airman. The Air Force primarily uses move-eligibility rules rather than qualifications to sort airmen into assignments. For example, time in station is a factor affecting assignment eligibility. This is quite different from the Army, where acquiring new skills can increase the choice of future assignments.