Defense Dept., private industry to trade workers for a while

By Marjorie Censer
Monday, January 3, 2011

The Defense Department is launching a pilot program that will send information technology employees to industry in an effort to improve the government's IT expertise, particularly in cybersecurity.

The Pentagon is issuing the regulations to make the program a reality, and key DOD agencies, including the Defense Information Systems Agency, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Air Force and Army, are ready to participate.

"Given the changing workforce dynamics in the IT field, DOD needs to take advantage of these types of professional development programs to proactively position itself to keep pace with the changes in technology," according to a notice in the Federal Register, which publishes government documents.

The program comes as both government and industry intensify their focus on the cybersecurity field. The military has established the new U.S. Cyber Command at Fort Meade, while area contractors have busily been acquiring smaller, more specialized cyber companies and building cyber-devoted centers.

Under the pilot program, Pentagon employees considered exceptional who work in IT and are expected to take on a larger management role in the future could be sent to the private sector for anywhere from three months to two years.

Employees would remain federal workers and their salaries would be paid by the government.

The program would similarly allow private company employees to spend time working in the government, but in this case too, the private company would continue to pay the employee's salary. However, no more than 10 employees can participate in the pilot program at any given time and all of the assignments have to start before the end of September 2013.

Stan Soloway, president and chief executive of industry association the Professional Services Council, said the program will help government employees identify new trends and technologies.

"We have long supported any and all efforts that help develop the federal workforce because they're our customers," he said.

But Larry Letow, chief operating officer and president of Glen Burnie-based Convergence Technology Consulting and chairman of the Tech Council of Maryland's board of directors, said the exchange program may prove difficult to implement. In particular, Letow said, he is concerned about how the Pentagon and industry will ensure employees don't violate any procurement regulations or security requirements.

In a statement, the Pentagon said it will require work agreements to be approved by its general counsel's office to address these types of concerns.

Soloway said any potential conflicts of interest can be easily managed.

"The benefits far outweigh the very, very modest risks," he said.

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