To Retain Its Technological Edge, the Pentagon Must Transform Its Culture

To Retain Its Technological Edge, the Pentagon Must Transform Its Culture
An aerial view of the Pentagon in Washington, March 27, 2008 (AP photo by Charles Dharapak).

The U.S. Department of Defense is grappling with a serious problem: It has an increasing need for top-tier technology talent but has a difficult time competing with the private sector for the people it wants. “The Pentagon is struggling to attract and retain talent for technology-centric jobs related to artificial intelligence, coding and software development,” as Mark Pomerlau put it in Defense News.

Part of this problem cannot be resolved. The Department of Defense will never match the salaries that the private sector offers its stars. But many of the issues that the Pentagon faces are self-inflicted. Its organizational culture and work environment do not appeal to young, creative individuals with badly needed technological skills. “It wasn't a fun place to work,” Trae Stephens, co-founder and chairman of the defense technology startup Anduril Industries and a partner at the venture capital Founders Fund, admitted after a three-year government internship. “It was always negative and nasty.”

While private sector technology firms carefully build organizational cultures and work environments to maximize creativity and appeal to creative people, the Pentagon simply inserts technology talent into its rigid, bureaucratized and often stultifying organizational culture, then micromanages them into submission—or exodus. Without a serious redirection, this will only get worse, hindering America’s ability to compete in an increasingly tech-dominated security environment.

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