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[] Tech Brain Drain im US-Militär,

Tech Brain Drain Pains Military  

By Noah Shachtman 

02:00 AM Nov. 18, 2002 PT

This should be a golden time for military scientists. The armed forces
are flush with cash and bulging with bleeding-edge projects. The war on
terror relies on newfangled gadgets. And the civilian economy is in the

But the armed forces are scrambling to cope with a massive exodus of
scientific and engineering talent. 

This departure is particularly brutal for the Air Force. About 20
percent of the service's 13,300 science and engineering positions are
currently unfilled. Thousands more of these jobs will be abandoned in
the next five years as baby boomers begin to retire. 

The shortcomings are already affecting maintenance of core weapons
programs and arms research. And the problems are expected to get much

Crucial hubs -- like the Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright Patterson
Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, where futuristic aircraft like the F-22
fighter and the Global Hawk drone are developed -- "will see up to 50
percent of their (technical) people out the door," said Robert Bunting,
a resources chief for the Air Force Materiel Command. "We're not making
up for those people with new hires." 

At Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, staffing gaps have shelved
upgrades to flight control and weapons software for fighter planes like
the F-16 and the A-10. 

"We simply do not have enough scientists and engineers, military or
civilian, to meet our requirements," Lt. Gen. Stephen Plummer, the
military director of the Air Force's Scientific Advisory Board, recently
told Air Force Print News. 

The Air Force has tried some limp measures to cope with the departures:
producing a Web-based career guide for the technically minded,
establishing a scientific mentor program and declaring 2002 the Year of
the Engineer and Scientist. 

"Military laboratories will need a lot more than a new PR campaign in
order to make them broadly attractive to scientific talent," wrote
Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists in an e-mail. 

The problems stem in large part from federal hiring practices. There's a
nearly endless series of tests, interviews and evaluations. And only
American citizens are welcome. 

"It takes about 5-1/2 months to process a single civil service hire,"
said Mike Zyda, director the Naval Postgraduate School's MOVES
Institute, which develops modeling and simulations for the armed
services. "The (human resources) system is just dead. They work one day
a week, from eight to nine in the morning. And they've got these high
school dropouts setting the pay for Ph.D.s." 

Zyda circumvents these rules by hiring nearly all of his employees as
faculty members of the school. 

Other technical centers use similar workarounds. By classifying a job
under a "laboratory demonstration project," the Army Corps of Engineers
can hire, on the spot, college graduates with a grade point average of
3.5 or better. The Corps can also pay these employees more, offer
signing bonuses and provide merit raises -- nearly impossible under the
standard rules. 

That's crucial because while demand for science and engineering jobs is
growing, the number of students in those disciplines has stayed more or
less the same. 

As part of hiring programs ramped up during the mid-1990s to prepare for
boomer retirements, the Corps hires 600 recent college graduates a year,
and gives another 600 sophomores, juniors and seniors part-time jobs
with the expectation that they'll work full time when they graduate. 

"If we didn't start working on this problem years ago, we'd be up shit
creek," said Tony Whitehouse, the Corps' employment chief. 

Air Force brass only began to face their personnel problems within the
last two years, said Materiel Command's Bunting. In fact, from fiscal
year 1997 to 2002, the Air Force Research Lab reduced its civilian
science and engineering teams by more than 25 percent. Today more than
40 percent of the military positions in these areas are open. 

But it's unclear whether the Air Force is truly worried about the
problem. There's no money in next year's budget for already approved
"retention bonuses" for scientists and engineers. 

Without these experts, the armed services must turn to outside
contractors -- an imperfect solution. 

Contractors are twice as expensive as military employees, a senior Army
scientist noted. And private companies, concentrating on the next
quarter's profits, don't have the time or inclination to "scheme and
dream," said Carole Hedden of Aviation Week. 

"The next big breakthroughs -- how are they going to happen?" Hedden

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