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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Weekly Column 12-20-01

Education and Retention Essential To Our National Security
Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN)
December 20, 2001
Uzbek, Serbo-Croation and Arabic.
These are just a few of the languages spoken in regions of the world central to our national security. With few Americans speaking these languages fluently, the problem is clear. If we can't read or write in these languages, our ability to collect intelligence information is compromised and our national security is at risk.
Language, science, and math skills are areas relating to our national security where our federal workforce lacks the necessary degree of proficiency. With an unprecedented increase in the number of federal employees retiring, this problem is exacerbated.
I recently joined with two of my colleagues in the Senate to introduce a pair of bills that provide a comprehensive strategy to deal with these weaknesses. The Homeland Security Education Act and the Homeland Security Federal Workforce Act address specific problems in the federal government's ability to recruit and retain the most talented and qualified national security professionals.
Through the Homeland Security Education Act, experts will be drawn into fields relating to National Security through educational grants, loan forgiveness programs, and opportunities for overseas language training. In addition to this, foreign language education will be addressed and developed at all levels, from elementary schools to universities and beyond.
The Homeland Security Federal Workforce Act will also create incentives to join the federal workforce at agencies including the Departments of Defense, State, Energy, and Justice as well as the CIA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Security Agency. Like its sister legislation, it will establish loan forgiveness programs and educational grants.
The Workforce Act will also create a National Security Service Corps, through which federal national security agencies will conduct exchange programs for mid-level employees. Perhaps most importantly, this legislation will better track our future needs for national security personnel by requiring agencies to address human capital needs when assessing agency strength and future plans.
These bills were a product of many of the recommendations made by the Hart/Rudman Commissionon National Security in the 21st Century earlier this year. The commission warned in its most recent report that maintaining American power in the world would depend on the quality of our federal workforce. Such a recommendation was underscored by the events we witnessed on September 11th.
Employing the best possible federal workforce is a matter of national security. The federal government's workforce crisis is real and will remain unless we begin to think strategically about what our needs are and then match our most skilled people with opportunities for development and incentives to stay.
For more information on this column or other issues, visit my website at http://thompson.senate.gov.

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Fred Thompson

Fred Thompson
Former U.S. Senator (R-TN)