The Defense Innovation Board (DIB), a Federal advisory committee, is urging the Department of Defense (DoD) to appoint a Digital People Officer.

The FY20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) features a number of provisions to help the Pentagon recruit, develop, and retain digital talent. In a report released March 6, DIB zeroed in on the §230 provision, in which Congress directed DoD to “promote and maintain digital expertise and software development as core competencies” in both its civilian and military workforces.

As part of that provision, Congress empowered the Defense Secretary to appoint a Chief Digital Engineering Recruitment and Management Officer (CDERMO). However, in a move to avoid a lengthy acronym and mouthful of a job title, DIB proposes that the position be renamed to Digital People Officer.

The report said that the new title “will resonate with the type of talent DoD is trying to attract.” DIB said it believes a Digital People Office could “enable current DoD offices with authority over personnel decisions by helping them more effectively and rapidly recruit, develop, and retain digital talent, serving as a central repository of knowledge, best practices, tools, and services.”

In its report, DIB stressed the need for a “paradigm shift within DoD in its approach to digital talent and implications for a digitally-competent and competitive workforce.” DIB further explained that developing a highly capable digital workforce is critical to achieving the broader digital transformation outlined in the DoD Digital Modernization Strategy to integrate digital technology into the full range of DoD operations, from personnel management to strategic planning to operations and battlefield management.”

DIB said that while the Pentagon has taken “positive steps” to strengthen its digital workforce, “many of these efforts are slow to produce results, and difficult to change the large and interconnected yet disparate personnel policies across DoD.” DIB acknowledged that while the disparate personnel policies can be a positive – as such approaches can “align to culture within a certain Service or field” – it also can “result in a seeming schizophrenic codification of the same skill.”

The report acknowledged that “building up a robust digital workforce within the decentralized DoD bureaucracy requires many separate efforts.” However, “absent major structural overhaul consolidating all personnel decisions within one office, the best way to help all stakeholders succeed is to create a central resource and enabler.”

DIB laid out its recommendations for the Digital People Officer’s roles and responsibilities:

  • “Provide guidance and standardization on digital engineering disciplines, careers, and team compositions (civilian and military). The DPO should think through creative ways to foster greater workforce permeability (moving in and out of government service).
  • Provide guidance and tools for tracking, development, upskilling, training, and education.
  • Develop and share processes and tools to recruit and hire digital talent; includes authority to pilot/prototype methodologies and tools used for hiring.
  • Directly support hiring for senior technical positions.
  • Develop appropriate standards and metrics to assess progress.
  • Identify and champion necessary policy and legal changes.
  • Connect with other parts of the government and non-government organizations to find valuable insights for DoD.”
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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.