DISA employees staying on, despite BRAC

Thursday - 5/12/2011, 7:56am EDT

WFED's Jason Miller

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The Defense Department's Base Realignment and Closure effort is not bringing the massive shakeup to the Defense Information System Agency's workforce that many were concerned about a few years ago. When DoD decided DISA would move more than 40 miles away to Fort Meade, Md., some thought a large percentage of the 4,600 employees wouldn't go with the agency.

"I would estimate that about 70 percent of the workforce is accepting the positions up here at Ft. Meade and about 30 percent did not," said Jack Penkoske, DISA's director of manpower, personnel and security. "Some of that was spread out over a period of time, but I think that it's a pretty accurate portrayal of the percentages."

He said the rate of attrition has been fairly consistent with or without BRAC.

Of the 30 percent who decided not to move to Ft. Meade, Penkoske said about 15 percent retired and the other 15 percent found jobs with other agencies.

"I don't think we've seen a trend among workforce. There has not been a larger turnover in one area or another," he said. "It's been pretty much across spectrum of jobs. We have been aggressive to make sure we have the right people in all mission critical occupations."

Penkoske said DISA could see a wave of employees leaving over the next three-to-six months after all the agency's employees make the move to Ft. Meade.

About 2,300 have moved so far and the other 2,300 will move by this summer, he said.

"We are at least planning for the possibility that a portion of the workforce, after they get up here, they will find the commute is a little too much to take," he said. "So without a lot of advanced notice, we may have another round of turnover so we have to be ready for that. We are trying to make sure all the hiring efforts that we have in place, we are ready to move on short notice if people do decide to do that."

Workers on the move

Instead, DISA is seeing a different kind of shift in its workforce.

David Bullock, DISA's BRAC executive, said the demographics of where employees live has shifted dramatically.

"We started off when the BRAC was announced with about 70 percent of the workforce in Virginia and roughly 20 percent in Maryland," Bullock said. "As of right now, the workforce that lives in Maryland is up to just under 50 percent. So between new hires, attrition that has occurred and the people we've hired, and the existing workforce that has moved to Maryland, we are seeing a significant transition in demographics. We thought it would take about five years for the workforce to reverse the percentages. It's probably going to be two to three years when we see a reversal in that."

About 15 to 20 percent of DISA's employees have taken advantage of the permanent change of station entitlement DoD provides for workers, Penkoske said.

Bullock added DISA has not seen a big decrease in the number of employees and for those who have left, the agency has been aggressive in hiring new ones.

DISA isn't alone in preparing for a workforce transformation.

Vendors not feeling BRAC effects, yet

Contractors who support DISA and other DoD agencies moving to Fort Meade as well as those moving to Fort Belvoir or Bethesda Naval Medical Center are also seeing changes to their workforces.

"We are seeing a multi-layer effect," said Kathleen Smith, the chief marketing officer for Clearjobs.net. "One is a lot of the companies are seeing that their employees are going to wait and see if they are going to be able to handle the commute and continue supporting their customers. Many of the candidates and employees are saying 'yes we will be able to handle the commute,' but I don't think they are really looking forward to a two-and-a-half to three hour commute to continue supporting their mission."

Clearjobs.net helps vendors find and hire employees with security clearances.

She said many vendors are concerned about employees, who have long standing relationships with agencies, leaving because of BRAC.

"We've really heard that they are waiting to see what happens in the fall," Smith said. "They really anticipate there will be a lot of activity as far as people being available who have not been available before. They do have the higher end clearances but they are not willing to drive from Maryland down to Virginia. It will be very interesting because a lot of companies who have been looking for top talent with a top clearance will be able to have that when people say they don't want to do the commute anymore."