Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology



August/September 2011

Diversity/Careers August/September 2011 Issue

Native Americans
ChEs & EnvEs
Medical devices
Business intelligence
Defense contractors
Great Minds in STEM
Grace Hopper
PhD Project

WBEs in technology
News & Views
WBENC connections
Regional roundup
Supplier diversity

Diversity in action
News & Views

GE Healthcare Advertisement
Telephonics AOptix Technologies
Office of Naval Research ITT

Diversity In Action

The DTRA counters weapons of mass destruction

The agency's responsibilities address the entire spectrum of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive threats

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency has a mission like an action thriller, standing between U.S. citizens and disaster. As a Department of Defense (DoD) combat support agency, its job is to combat weapons of mass destruction.

Shari Durand, the agency's associate director for the business enterprise, says, "One of the great things about the agency is our employees' passion for the work and the mission. That makes the work experience very rewarding."

She explains that DTRA's programs include basic science R&D;, operational support to U.S. warfighters on the front line, and operational planning that focuses on anticipating future threats before they have a chance to harm the U.S. or its allies.

The U.S. Strategic Command Center shares DTRA's HQ building and synchronizes efforts across the military's geographic commands. It leverages people, programs and interagency relationships at a strategic level.

The agency has a wide range of responsibilities, from chemical and biological defense programs to special ops programs and on-site inspections for treaties related to arms control. Of course it addresses the entire spectrum of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive threats.

As a result, "Technical skills are as diverse as you can find," Durand says. "The agency needs people from nuclear physicists to special ops professionals to civil engineers who blow things up to see how they behave."

Underlying everything is a need for a strong IT infrastructure to support the missions. "DTRA is around the world and missions take us to a wide variety of places. Cybersecurity is important. That gives us challenges in information assurance and protection," Durand says.

DTRA also works to accomplish its overall mission by investing in basic research at universities, nonprofit organizations, national labs and DoD service labs. It also builds relationships with other scientific organizations and looks to identify promising research efforts overseas.

Through its basic research program it recruits and trains scientists and engineers to develop
a talented workforce for the future. A lot of work is done overseas; the agency's largest overseas workforce concentration is in Germany, and Durand notes that DTRA engineers and scientists provided expertise to the Japanese government after the recent earthquake/tsunami crisis.

Job hunters can monitor government websites and look into "industry days" where DTRA presents upcoming projects for contracting opportunities.

Diversity recruiting and awareness efforts are led by the agency's equal opportunity office and the human capital office, Durand says. The agency recruits from HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions.

Internship programs introduce college students to the DTRA. "Usually college-age students work here in the summer, then go back to school and return for the winter holidays," Durand says. "It's a great recruiting tool for us, and a good chance for them to see if they want to be
in government service."

The agency has a formal mentoring program, with about 140 current diverse participants, and it's working on a strategic employment plan, laying out skill sets needed for the future. The workforce will need "significant replenishment" in the next ten to fifteen years, Durand notes.

DTRA offers excellent opportunities for professional development, including a program where the agency helps with tuition for employees' BS, MS and PhD programs. There are also new leader and executive development programs within the agency.

Plenty of work-life balance programs are available, including flexible work schedules and teleworking options. There's a robust wellness program, including the popular "lose to win" competition which challenges people to lose weight to reduce health issues. "We believe that this has reduced sick leave and increased productivity in the agency, and hundreds of pounds have been lost!" Durand says.


Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA)

Headquarters: Fort Belvoir, VA
Employees: 2,000 civilian and military
Budget: $3 billion
Mission: Official combat support agency of the Department of Defense that counters weapons of mass destruction

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