She’s retired from government, but not from national security

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For long-serving federal executives, retirement from government is merely a gateway to a next phase. A case in point is Letitia Long, who retired back in 2014 as director of the National Geospatial- Intelligence Agency. She sits on several corporate boards and chairs one of the big trade associations. For some insight into her post-government life and...

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Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

For long-serving federal executives, retirement from government is merely a gateway to a next phase. A case in point is Letitia Long, who retired back in 2014 as director of the National Geospatial- Intelligence Agency. She sits on several corporate boards and chairs one of the big trade associations. For some insight into her post-government life and a few other matters, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with Letitia Long.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin
All right. And a lot of Feds at your level, have to contemplate what will be nice, because I’ve known very few in 30 years of covering this, of people that just absolutely retire and go fishing. And a lot of incoming comes your way, and there are ethical ways of dealing with it. But more importantly, how do you decide what should come next?

Letitia Long
So Tom, that’s a great question. Because as you say, there can be a lot of incoming, let me just share with you what I did, and a couple of things that I think apply to everyone. First of all, take a break, take some time off, if you’ve been at the senior executive level, you’ve probably been working at full speed for a long time. So take a break, you’ve earned it, you deserve it.

Second, talk to as many people as you can, learn what they did, may not be directly for you, but you’re gonna get tidbits, from everyone. And then, there’s a couple of I would say, major decisions you need to make. That is where are you going to live? Are you going to stay in the Washington DC area? Are you going elsewhere? Do you want to go work for a company full time? Do you want to hang your own shingle and, develop a consulting business? Or in my case, do you want to put a portfolio together? Which is what I ended up doing. And I was very fortunate that I had a lot of incoming, as you say, a lot of opportunities. And so I fashioned a portfolio that was one-third boards, one-third teaching and public speaking, and one-third pro bono. And those one-third, one-third, one-third did not equal 100% of my time.

Tom Temin
Sure.

Letitia Long
Because I absolutely wanted to leave time for family who had been neglected, and friends.

Tom Temin
And the good thing about boards is that they are not full time employment. But in most cases, they do pay something right?

Letitia Long
In most cases they do. And again, there’s a mix there. A public company board, is typically a mix of cash compensation and equity, stock, private company boards can be the same, although they are often equity. And so you’re betting on the future of the company. And then there are of course, nonprofit boards that usually don’t compensate you at all, in a cash or equity way. They certainly compensate you from a reward perspective.

Tom Temin
In a reputational manner, perhaps.

Letitia Long
That as well. You mentioned a trade association. I’m chairwoman of the board of INSA, the Intelligence and National Security Alliance and the organization had a great reputation. When I took over the board, and it it continues to, and it’s enabled me to build continue to build my network.

Tom Temin
And you are not merely a senior executive, but one at a very high visible level in the intelligence community, not Senate confirmed necessarily, but interacting on a daily basis at that level. And so you have to be careful, I guess that what you choose which boards you serve to be on, for example, have a themselves a reputation that can enhance your own standing and not diminish it, fair way to put the consideration?

Letitia Long
Absolutely, Tom, and you use that reputation word. And when we retire from federal service, what we have at the end of the day is our integrity and our reputation. Certainly, we’re skilled. And as you mentioned, the interaction with Congress, running a large organization, multibillion dollar global operations, the way I approached thinking about boards was, could I get behind the mission of the company? Was it something I could relate to? Did I respect the CEO and the management team? And did I respect and want to be a part of the board of directors? Were these people I wanted to be associated with? And would want my name associated with? And then did I think I could contribute? And was I going to continue to learn and develop? And I will tell you that still the way I approach each board opportunity, I’m still again, very fortunate getting new opportunities.

Tom Temin
Wow, we’re speaking with Letitia Long, former director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, long serving IC person, and now chair of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance. And I want to ask you about one aspect of your career at NGA, and how that has played out since in your view. And that is the inculcation of open source materials data into the IC. That was revolutionary at the time. But it also recognized what was going on in the geospatial market with new satellites, new startups all kinds of new geospatial tools, how would you evaluate the outcome at this point? Eight, nine, 10 almost a decade later.

Letitia Long
So let’s take a very real world example, Ukraine, the satellite imagery that you are seeing nearly every day, comes from multiple commercial companies that, yes, sell their imagery to the government. And there’s a huge commercial market. It has been crucial in this war between Russia and Ukraine, from multiple perspectives. From a diplomatic perspective, this administration used it to really show the world what was going on, that Ukrainians have used it to actually plan and conduct their operations. So that is just one, very real example of a huge commercial market that is impacting really all aspects of our life. I mean, I give a military and diplomatic example. There are many examples, from all of the ways you use your smartphone to navigate to just finding information. You mentioned geospatial, but there’s just a wealth of information out there in the open source arena.

Tom Temin
And in many ways that puts more pressure on an agency to really develop its people. Because if they are using sources of data in their work, and again, in this case, geospatial that is available to anyone else on earth, then you have to be able to be better at using those tools than anyone else. So it becomes I would think a human capital training, kind of orientation issue more than a technical issue.

Letitia Long
You know, it’s a little of both, Tom, because first of all, is that information real? Or has it been manipulated? What is the source of the information? Can it be verified independently? So there are still technical aspects, absolutely. And yes, it is the human capital aspects, and are the individuals comfortable looking at a full array of sources, commercial, open source, as well as the government information, and then integrating it all together and using a wide variety of tools.

And one more career related question. You’ve stated in another recent interview that it was your civilian status in moving to the NGA, which is a combat support organization, that was more significant, in some sense, then you’re being the first woman director.

Both actually, when I was coming up through the ranks, I never really aspired to be the director of an agency. There had never been a woman before. And there had never been a civilian. Now, there were a couple who were civilians at the time of being director. But they had storied military careers, they were known as lieutenant general, or vice admiral, retired, and then went on to lead agencies. I was the first true civilian with no military service. There have been more since I was director. And that’s really gratifying to see that, hopefully, another glass ceiling shattered.

Tom Temin
Sure. And again, looking back on a long time in the federal government, Congress talks about the federal workforce, it doesn’t actually make much in the way of fundamental change in the statutory basis for federal employment. What could they do, you think to improve Title 5, replace it, or otherwise, just enhance the idea of being a federal career person?

Letitia Long
One of the things they could do is adopt some of the flexibilities that are in Title 10. And in some of the other titles that enable direct hiring, for instance. So those in the intelligence community fall under Title 10. And they have the ability to do direct hires, still taking into account, you know, all of the aspects of competition, diversity and equity, but a little more flexibility that enables you to hire very quickly, the current hiring process, forget about the security clearance process, but the current hiring process can take months and months and months. And when you’re in a crisis mode, you need to bring that talent on very quickly. The other thing that Title 10 gives the flexibility for is pay bands. So not just the set grade and step that Title 5 locks you into giving you the ability to compensate people for their experience, their education and their market worth, those two things alone would make a huge difference.

Tom Temin
Yeah, so five toward 10, that’s a little bit different than say, the approach of Veterans Affairs where Title 38, they want to make more like Title 5 in some aspects, as opposed to making Title 5 more like Title 38.

Letitia Long
And there are probably nuggets in each of those titles. So maybe a task force to pull out all the best of each, and then develop something new.

Tom Temin
And by the way, what’s it like, if you can recall the first day after you leave a high security high clearance job where you have access to just about all of the secret classified national security information flowing? In the next morning, you pick up the phone and it’s just a dial tone?

Letitia Long
That’s a great question. And, when I woke up the first day, it was kind of with a start, oh, my gosh, I’m late. And then it was, oh, I don’t have to be anywhere. And then it was, well, I don’t have my morning intelligence briefing, how am I going to know what’s really going on in the world. And, you know, you referenced and we talked about a few minutes ago that open source information, there’s a lot of really good information out there, it might be 12 or 24 hours late, but most of the current events actually make their way into the public view, which I think is good and very important. It may be a time lag. And then you may not always know the exact source or technical collection, which I don’t think the general public needs to know. Keep that secret, but educate the people on on what’s going on around the world. And I very rapidly, I was OK, I didn’t miss the 3 a.m. phone calls or the 4 a.m. roll out of bed. I do miss the people and the mission.

Tom Temin
But given, what you have actually done in your post career, I guess the best way to put it is maybe the girl left the mission, but the mission didn’t leave the girl.

Letitia Long
It’s a good way to put it Tom.

Tom Temin
Letitia Long is former director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. She is currently chair of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance. Thanks so much for joining me.

 

 

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