An Ode to the Defense Industrial Base

Written by Ross Hecox

This post isn’t about any specific company. It’s about an industry.

There’s a good chance that if you are reading this, you are currently working within the Defense Industrial Base (DIB) as a contractor or government employee. If you are not a member or veteran of the armed forces, when was the last time someone thanked you for your service, if ever? Start your new countdown from today, because I want to thank you for your sacrifices and for the great solutions that you are contributing to on behalf of our nation and our allies.

Thank You… a lot!!

As I sat down to write this, I began thinking about some of the sacrifices inherent to a career dedicated to national security. Times have changed, and they will continue to, but I reminisce about parents and family members who worked at and retired from the NSA. For the majority of their time this was pre-internet, pre-cell phone, and pre-9/11 when access to the base and larger parking lot of the facilities were accessible. I recall easily accessing Tower Federal (where I’ve banked my entire life) as a newly licensed teenager on the way to pick up my mother from work when I had access to our only family vehicle. While the campus was always accessible, my family was not. They worked for the “DoD”, not NSA when referencing their employer. They didn’t get to share their job satisfaction with the outside world, or commiserate with friends or relatives about any given day’s stress the way many members of this community can today. The media had very little access and the information about “No Such Agency” was largely rumor based, contained by geographical and technological boundaries, given the lack of mass media and social channels that exist today. They lived a life keeping secrets, flying under the radar, and ultimately, the fewer friends they had, the better. These were some of the sacrifices of my parents’ generation.

My mother worked on a typewriter for the majority of her career, leveled up to a word processor, and then finally a pc for a short period of time before retiring in 1997. I was away at Basic Training, so I missed all of the fanfare surrounding her special day. And by fanfare, I refer to her having lunch with her team at Blob’s Park and then receiving the flag that flew proudly over campus the day of her retirement. There wasn’t a big party of family and friends. The sun set and she woke up the next day, retired. Or maybe, she woke up relieved? I should ask her. I do know that she remains proud of the work she contributed to, and she continues to protect secrets of her time as if still employed there today.

This also isn’t a post about my mother. But I love her, so she gets a place! This is really about you, the sacrifices you make, and a story about the future of the DIB.

I’m here to say, I recognize the challenges and sacrifices you have made to commit to a career supporting national security interests. The rigors of checking your life at the door each day you arrive to work, planning of vacations (overseas), the poly and periodic reviews with investigators who are seemingly more than okay with you throwing your hands in the air and leaving the industry altogether, the annual forms and reporting required of you, the PARKING, the oversight, the… you get the picture. While you may not have to say you work for the “DoD” anymore, the digital era has brought on so many more requirements, threats, and therefore sacrifices to be made by its workforce that are larger than ever before.

So, thank you!! (I’m going to keep saying this, because you need to hear it!!)

Carten Cordell, Managing Editor of FCW, reported that at a House Armed Services Committee meeting last month, National Defense Industrial Association president and CEO, David Norquist shared, “Today, there is a mismatch in what our national strategies aim to achieve and how our defense industrial base is postured. For example, we should expect the number of workers in the defense industrial base to be increasing. In 1985, the U.S. had 3 million workers in the defense industry. In 2021, there were 1.1 million workers in the sector and that number is remaining flat.”   

It may not be a secret to you that recruitment and retention challenges are at the forefront of priorities for both small and large businesses, respectively. The NSA has an unprecedented mission of hiring 3,000 new employees in 2023, one of its most significant surges in the last 30 years. Separately, Chris Inglis, National Cyber Director, stated that there are 700,000 cyber-related jobs to be filled on any given day. And furthermore, beginning in 2007, the domestic birth rate dropped significantly. National projections suggest up to a 15.9% reduction in college-age, native born Americans starting in 2025. Frank Goertner, Director of Federal and Veteran Affairs at the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business, calls this a “demographic cliff” that will acutely impact industries, such as national defense and cybersecurity, that ultimately depend on college educated U.S. citizens. 

Again, thank you!!

What I’m getting at is that you are doing very important work (whether it always feels like it or not), and the industry needs more people like you. The strain on this industry is going to get a bit worse before it gets better. Though, on another good note, the “supply and demand” makes this industry a really-really good one for you! It forces employers to offer competitive total rewards that provide opportunities for professional development, retirement, exceptional benefits, and a host of perks designed around you.

For this “Where to Work Wednesday”, I’m saying that you are working right where you need to in order to have access to some of the smartest people, most important opportunities for national security, most generous employers, most stable work, and greater flexibility than you may realize! Believe me, I have stories to back this up!!

A request for consideration – If you’re thinking or have thought about leaving the industry altogether, do yourself a favor and look for a new employer with different work, benefits, hybrid opportunities, etc. within industry before doing anything else. And I will happily spend some time listening to you and helping you process what is right for you if you are interested! There are some really great employers out there who understand the sacrifices made, and they are investing in the employee experience to show you how much they care! 

Another big thank you!

Expert Tip – If you end up with an offer you can’t refuse that would take you outside of industry, see if you can work with your current employer to stay on for an hour a week to maintain your clearance. If they are the prime, this is easier to accomplish and makes it much easier to return when you are ready! As a whole, there’s no other industry that rewards you for your time better than that of the intelligence community contractors. That’s their way of saying, thank you!