DIA looks to stem attrition through more flexible work options

The spy agency is facing a worrying trend of contracting officers and HR specialists leaving for greener, telework pastures.

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The Defense Intelligence Agency is hoping to stem attrition among its support staff by carving out more telework and remote work options for those positions.

The spy agency offered more telework flexibility than ever before during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when its headquarters was operating at 40% capacity to allow for social distancing. But going forward, DIA Chief of Staff John Kirchhofer said personnel who operate in a “mission space” at the agency can still expect to do the majority of their work in a classified facility.

“We are an all-source intelligence agency, meaning we don’t just do open source, we don’t just rely on unclassified information,” Kirchhofer said. “If you are operating in the mission space in DIA, you’re going to have to be in a [Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility].”

For its legions of accountants, human resource specialists and other “enabling” parts of its workforce, however, DIA is exploring alternative options.

“I think over the long term, we will have more flexibility on the enabling side of the house,” Kirchhofer said during a Nov. 29 event hosted by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance. “At least for now our business systems, whether they be HR or finance or our learning management system, that all resides on the high side and can’t be accessed from home either. I think some of that capability can be pushed down.”

“We’re probably going to have to do some level of that to compete for personnel in that space,” he added.

DIA is specifically seeing increased attrition among its HR specialists and contracting officers, Kirchhofer said, acknowledging that other agencies can offer those professionals work-from-home options.

“I think we need to work toward some home solutions for folks that work on that enabling side,” he said. “Otherwise, I just don’t think we can compete for talent and our retention will struggle.”

DIA is among a number of intelligence agencies that are navigating shifting workplace expectations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines has said the intelligence community must find ways to make workplaces “more flexible and appealing” to compete for talent.

Kirchhofer, who has been DIA’s chief of staff since June 2021, said one of his top priorities for the remainder of his tenure  is focusing on the “untapped promise” of “remote secure telework,” where employees have the flexibility to work from a number of SCIFs across the country or even abroad. Industry has also advocated for making more use of shared SCIF space.

“That’s a massive cultural shift, though, for supervisors at all levels,” Kirchhofer said. “That kind of old school concept of, ‘I want to see someone come in and click the time clock and I want to know when they leave.’ You got to put some trust in folks that they are in fact going to be gainfully employed and work for eight hours a day or whatever their time schedule is. But I don’t need everybody sitting around me because I have this amazing connectivity.”

DIA looks to invest in HR capacity

The pandemic also revealed cracks in how DIA has “chronically underinvested” in its HR personnel and systems, Kirchhofer said.

“In 2008, when the combatant command civilian personnel were realigned from the military departments to DIA, we never grew our HR capacity to support that,” he said. “And that was part of the logic at the time, we can do this cheaply. But when you’re faced with a crisis, you realize that doing it cheaply is not serving the workforce well.”

He said DIA is working with Pentagon leadership to boost its HR capacity and create a more attractive HR career track at the agency.

Meanwhile, DIA is also preparing to modernize what is still largely an analog, paper-based HR information system.

“The reality is, we can’t take advantage of anything that big data brings to the fight, machine learning, how we might use those types of tools to tell us more about where we have gaps in talent in our workforce,” Kirchofer said. “So we’re going to modernize our business systems the same way we’re going to modernize our mission systems.”


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