Reducing wait times and diversifying applicant pools are just two workforce priorities for the CIA, as the agency tries to revamp its best practices for hiring.
One of the hurdles to changing recruitment, though, is the agency’s extensive security clearance process, said Juliane Gallina, associate deputy director of the CIA’s Directorate of Digital Innovation.
Although the hiring process does have certain elements that cannot be changed, the agency is working to open doors, for instance, to more diverse candidates, while also expediting the process wherever possible.
“We’re going to figure out how to get people fully employed in a much, much shorter timeframe. We’re talking orders of magnitude,” Gallina said at an Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) event on Sept. 20. “But we have to trust that the security process and background checks are also completed adequately [and] that we haven’t taken shortcuts, because we really do ask our employees to have tremendous responsibilities to care for very sensitive data and missions, and to care for each other.”
Part of the equation for federal recruitment, as for many agencies, takes into account the increasing role of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. For the CIA, that means incorporating a more hands-on approach.
“There’s a lot of focus on not just … the hiring process, but also helping to encourage the right people to apply – having different channels for applications that didn’t exist before, different ways of actually going out and proactively looking for the right candidates and encouraging people to apply, [and] creating relationships with academic institutions,” Gallina said.
Last year, the CIA expanded its partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), minority-serving institutions and other affinity groups to try to diversify its recruiting pool. The agency also plans to decrease the time between a candidate submitting a job application, and ultimately receiving a security clearance — from 600 days, down to 180 days.
CIA Director Bill Burns has said that the long processing times deter historically disadvantaged minority applicants, who may not have the means to wait that long for a security clearance.
Although the Intelligence Community has marked improvements in recent years for the diversity of its workforce, there are still challenges within its processes for hiring and recruiting. According to the most recent numbers available from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the percentage of minorities increased from 26.5% to 27%, between 2019 and 2020, for the IC civilian workforce. In the same timeframe, the percentage of individuals with disabilities increased slightly, from 11.5% to 11.9%, while the percentage of women remained at 39.3%.
Along with more diverse recruitment, the agency also said it plans to make significant changes to the hiring process itself, particularly with the time it takes to fully bring applicants on board.
“I think the median hiring time will have dropped by orders of magnitude by this December,” Gallina said.
In line with Director Burns’ greater focus on hiring, the agency launched several initiatives to try to bring in high-quality talent to the organization, while also creating a bridge for industry experts to try their hand at federal service. CIA’s technology fellows programs, for instance, gives employees in the private sector the opportunity to serve at the agency for a limited period of six to 12 months. The trend of adding fellowship opportunities is becoming increasingly common in the Intelligence Community, with other agencies, like the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, also launching their own programs.
“It speaks to a new era and an open-mindedness the agency has about partnering with industry and bringing talent into the agency, as mid-career hires, or even like myself as executives, to help lead a digital transformation,” Gallina said.
Another area of the CIA that’s looking for new hires is the recently established Transnational and Technology Mission Center, which over the past year and a half has focused on better understanding the role of technology in the whole ecosystem of national security, Gallina said.
The COVID-19 pandemic additionally changed not only the way the CIA hires, but also the way the agency interacts with industry partners. Within weeks after the pandemic began, the agency moved thousands of contractors into either unclassified environments, secret environments, SCIFs (sensitive compartmented information facilities) or other areas to work securely off site. With those adjustments, the pandemic allowed access to a lot more talent across the country, and more connectivity to industry partner spaces, Gallina said.
“The pandemic allowed us to really prompt some different thinking about putting things on task orders that allowed us to do work in a completion-type basis,” she said. “We were asking our industry partners to deliver something that was functional at a particular point of maturity, and that would be the completion milestone. By doing that, we were able to keep the work going, but allow vendors to really have a lot of creativity, to do the work that they needed to do, in a separate building and a separate place.”