Technology innovation is about people and making sure the best are hired, the deputy director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency said [Dec. 3] in a discussion on "Driving Technology in Government" at the virtual 2020 Aspen Cyber Summit.
Dr. Stacey Dixon said the internship program at NGA, a prime example, has developed is a way to get a lot of innovative thinking and new skill sets. The agency is not only able to bring in a more diverse part of its workforce by focusing on a university, it's getting students excited about NGA. "We find that once you give [interns] very meaningful projects to work on, they will come back year after year, and, then, our conversion rate to full-time employment is hovering at about the 70% mark with the interns," she noted.
Dixon said such a program is a good way for students to try out the government to see if it's something that might interest them. And as for people coming in from the outside, she says not to assume their ideas are the best ideas.
"Yes, government tends to be more bureaucratic in many ways than industry," she said. "However, once you figure out how things work, you can bring your new ideas, and you will find that there are a lot of innovative people and capabilities inside [government]. And it's a matter of merging the two: bringing your experiences from the outside in, and then figuring out how to interact and collaborate within the government to get your ideas to move forward."
COVID-19 and teleworking put NGA in a place where the agency needed to figure out how to operate in a world in which most employees were out of the building very quickly and needed to get a lot of meaningful work done, she said.
NGA gave employees a challenge to see what they could find out in terms of publicly- and commercially-available data that can contribute to their mission, she said.
"We've been astounded at the types of products and analysis we've been able to do that has either been standalone products or products that we could bring in and enhance with classified information," Dixon said.
NGA is allowing people to know their innovation, productivity and ability to learn something new is welcome, she said. "That's the kind of environment we want. We want people who are willing to go learn new things and figure out how to make them work within the mission that we've given them."
Dixon said she wants the American people to have more trust in government, in general.
"In the intelligence community, we have a lot of secrets, but we really go out of our way to be transparent, to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars," she said.
"We're really jeopardizing our future, so I want faith in our government… and an understanding [that] I want to keep this country safe. I want to keep this country prosperous. And I want to make sure that our values are values that we can define and determine, so anything that the public can do to help, that is what I'm asking."
View the Driving Innovation Inside Government video on the: DVIDS platform