The pace of innovation is accelerating — the pace of change itself is changing. One of the more pressing challenges for the federal government is to figure out how to embrace and leverage this new pace of change.
Accelerating change within a congressionally-funded system is inherently difficult, according to John Pereira, former deputy director of CIA for support. He said the best counter to those difficulties is to increase the level of collaboration with industry.
“We need collaboration between the U.S. government and industry at a level we have not previously seen,” Pereira said.
Now a managing director at Ernst & Young, Pereira sees a range of ways in which industry could help government to drive forward more aggressively on innovation. He is especially focused on helping the intelligence community to make better and more effective use of its talent.
That starts with rethinking some of the basics.
“Historically, government and the IC have treated careers vertically,” he said. “All measures suggest talent growth is vertical: We call it a career ‘ladder,’ when it is actually more of a career ‘lattice’ . . . and we even have a pay scale that implies more importance as you move ‘up’ in grade.” In practice, though, “you learn as much horizontally ⏤ from colleagues, coworkers, subject matter experts and teammates ⏤ as you do vertically.”
Rather than narrowly focusing on moving up, he suggested, people should think about how they can move and grow laterally, picking up new skills and broadening their experiences in new ways, to include rotations into and out of industry.
Through its People Advisory Services, EY is encouraging this kind of thinking, and Pereira sees some encouraging signs in the IC.
The CIA, for example, recent appointed its first ever chief wellbeing officer ⏤ “but there’s not really a blueprint for that person to follow,” he said. “Metrics and data are critically important. That’s a place where industry can assist.”
Industry likewise can help agencies to think about diversity in new ways ⏤ to embrace and implement diversity initiatives as a way of building a stronger workforce.
EY, for instance, built a Neuro-Diverse Center of Excellence. Why?
“Because agencies can benefit from employing neurodivergent individuals and teams,” Pereira said. “EY has proved that neurodivergent talent can bring new levels of critical analysis through adeptness in pattern recognition, enhanced ability to manipulate data, and a natural analytic mindset. This talent can be applied to cyber challenges, machine learning, AI and more. It improves mission outcomes.”
Overall, he’s encouraging the IC to take a bolder view of where and how it assembles the talent it needs in support of mission objectives.
“If you look at the talent base for the IC right now, it consists of three largely independent cylinders: staff, industry, and academia,” he said. “If you turn those three independent cylinders into a Venn diagram and then draw a circle around the whole thing, that is the actual talent base for the IC. Optimizing talent in the IC requires that the borders of those cylinders become more porous with things like externships: rotations in and out that give government officers experience in industry, and vice versa.”
At the same time, he suggested, industry should focus more effort on helping the IC address the needs of an increasingly mobile workforce.
“The U.S. government is a global business: they do work every day in every country on the planet,” he said. Yet in terms of communications, “we require people to be tethered, either to classified systems, to embassies, or to other geographically-based facilities.”
With the complexities of today’s mission challenges, “you’ve got to be able to accomplish your mission wherever you happen to be, whether it’s in your living room, in your [Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility], on a train or in a hotel,” he said.
Here again, EY is encouraging a rethink.
“Right now, information is largely managed within a binary system, classified and unclassified,” he said. “In fact it’s more of a continuum, ranging from wide open, publicly available news reporting all the way to tightly-guarded, top secret/code word data.”
Building a system or platform that accommodates a continuum could help the IC to organize its connectivity more effectively and protect its data in new, more innovative way, he said.
Pereira said industry needs to be more collaborative, to better assist the IC in its highly complex mission objectives. To that end, EY has developed a “Roundtable” concept, bringing together thought leaders from across industry to help identify new options to increase mission agility.
“The primary objective of the Roundtable is to try to take on some of the big mission challenges ⏤ either those we know about through our own experience, or those that the IC provides to us,” he said. “We build solution options. This isn’t going to be overly formal. It’s just a group of us that have some experience, trying to come up with a starting point. We’ll produce a thought paper: If you really want to innovate on this topic/issue/challenge, here’s a good starting point.”
Pereira is also working to take full advantage of the strengths of his company. EY has resources in over 150 countries, with expertise dispersed across that global footprint.
“Not unlike the government, finding the right expertise in the right place at the right time ⏤ across the globe ⏤ can be a challenge,” he said.
Pereira noted, though, there is great reason for optimism.
“Everyone is enthusiastic about addressing the talent challenge,” he said.
A 31-year CIA veteran who served as head of the Directorate of Support for Michael Hayden, Leon Panetta and David Petraeus, Pereira has worked in the GovCon space since 2014. He said he draws special satisfaction from helping to advance the IC mission from his new vantage point.
“When the intelligence community is able to build the type of speed, handle the types of volume, and work the really tough transnational and global issues, their success can make DOD and law enforcement more effective,” he said. “I see the intelligence community as being our nation’s true differentiator in national security issues.”