The NSA is part of the United States Armed Forces as detailed in my previous article. As a member of the US Armed Forces, it must remain compliant with Hague Conventions, Geneva Conventions, IHL, UN Declaration of Human Rights, US Constitution and Uniform Code of Military Justice.

As a member of the United States Armed Forces, NSA Academic Centers of Excellence should be classified as a US Armed Forces Academy and have the same admission standards of other armed forces academies within the USA. Part of the qualifications (and school curriculum) should also be similar to that of a special forces weapons sergeant where a criminal background is a disqualifier.

At a minimum the standards for admission at a US Armed Forces Academy should be the following:

  • A US Citizen
  • Between 17 and 23
  • Not married
  • Not pregnant
  • Not liable for child support
  • Must pass physical fitness requirements
  • Receive a congressional nomination
  • US Armed Forces commitment after graduation

These standards for admission where derived from obtaining the admission requirements from other US Armed Forces Academies from information that is publicly available on the admission portal of their websites.

The Armed Forces Commitment is outlined in most detail on the US Merchant Marine admissions portal and the USAF Academy portal has the most information on appropriate nominations other than congressional which include Presidential, Vice Presidential, US Military and Gubernatorial. The portal includes a sample letter to send for your nomination. Note that the sample letter presents an opportunity to automate the nomination and appointment process based on academic grades, performance and fitness achievements. The US Coast Guard Academy also has a list of disqualifying medical conditions which should be standardized across all academies. It also requires a letter of recommendation from Math, English and Guidance Counselors which I believe should be sent along with the request for nomination, rather than being used directly for academy admissions.

The commitment and nomination should be a standard for all US Armed Forces Academies including NSA Centers of Academic Excellence and detailed explanation of the commitment should be a mandatory part of the admissions and enrollment process. Nearly every job posted through the career centers at NSA Centers of Academic Excellence require a top secret security clearance regardless of whether a graduate is working directly for the US Armed Forces or for a private contractor to the US Armed Forces. This security clearance screening process should be part of the admissions and enrollment qualifications. The admission and enrollment processes should also be standardized immediately across all academies.

Jobs available to graduates from NSA Centers of Academic Excellence should include appointments at CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology which would mostly include the positions listed under STEM. They should also be eligible for appointment’s at the Secretary of Defense Communications Cables Division through DISA, at US Cyber Command, and for any information technology jobs through the Defense Intelligence Agency to name a few. These should all be appointments as commissioned officers which is in line with the duties and responsibilities upon graduation for other US Armed Forces Academies. The NSA Academy should strive to place graduates in appointments outside its own agency and possibly consider shifting its focus to cyber ops training and job placement within the US Armed Forces.

For private industry, certification from an NSA Centers of Academic Excellence have little value since there are private sector certifications from Microsoft, RedHat and CompTIA that address specific needs in the private sector’s corporate environment that do not have anything to do with military operations. It is a consensus among private industry that with the exception of military contractors like Northrup Grumman, Raytheon and certain divisions of Boeing, over 95% of corporations are civilians and not authorized to engage in military conflict.

NSA Centers of Academic Excellence should have their students create profiles on usajobs.gov during their first semester of enrollment. They should set their travel preferences, relocate to “yes”, their desired work locations,  and their appointment type and work schedule to “permanent”, “telework” and “full-time”. It should be understood that most telework would be done from one facility to another and not from home unless it is specifically authorized by Congress. They should also create a profile on intelligencecareers.gov which is where all technology careers for the US Armed Forces should eventually be listed.

From within the USA Jobs search, they should use “technology” as a keyword with no location set and further filter by selecting security clearance “secret”, “top secret” and “sensitive compartmented information” under other filters. Under top filters, they should select every branch of the US Armed Forces and then start saving interesting jobs into their saved jobs. The website allows 25 jobs to be saved. Intelligencecareers.gov should focus on this same functionality without having to do so much filtering.

The saved jobs can be discussed at the end of each semester with the career services so they can make adjustments to their course enrollment schedule and switch degree specializations before they have to start repeating classes.

All of the US Armed Forces Academies provide free tuition which is offset by their commitment after graduation. The US Coast Guard Academy even offers up to one year of prep school for qualified candidates and this should be a standard across all US Armed Forces Academies. This should also be the only free tuition that is offered by US Armed Forces. Members of the US Armed Forces should not be allowed to attend civilian college for free regardless of whether they are retired, enlisted or commissioned since the US Armed Forces teaches many viable skills that allow a direct career path in civilian life when their contract is done.

Outside of the academies, this  includes things like diesel mechanic, mechanical engineer, physician, psychologist, optometrist and airplane or helicopter pilot. Retired members of the military should not have to go to college unless it is for personal enrichment and that can be done inexpensively at a community college. In the civilian world, college graduates usually turn to re-employment programs such as WIOA if they wish to switch careers or to GR/GROW if they are having problem finding work in their regular line of employment. It should be no different for retired members of the US Armed Forces and this is especially true after they complete the Transition Assistance Program through the VA at the end of their contract.

Currently, there are over 300 NSA Centers of Academic Excellence compared with just 6 US Armed Forces Academies and 2 US Armed Forces Graduate Academies. They are broken down into the following categories

  • 21 NSA Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations
  • 307 NSA Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense
    • 16 of these are also NSA Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations
    • At least 4 religious institutions that violate the establishment cause of the US Constitution
    • At least 1 private institution that should not receive the designation at all.

The NSA has updated it’s website to be clear about its role in the US Armed Forces. It has also clarified that its business opportunities are in managing its budget from the Department of Defense. NSA has also clarified that it takes 42 weeks to get hired which is similar to the 39 to 52 week hiring process at CIA. Pre-screening for security clearance eligibility as part of the hiring process should significantly cut down on the screening process. In either case, applications should be started at the beginning of the final year prior to graduation to ensure the graduates can begin their commitments as soon as their schooling is complete.

In addition to the above changes, NSA has webinars regarding commitments at its agency including one on the security clearance process that should be part of the pre-enrollment and admission process.

The most important change at NSA is it’s oversight FAQ section which outlines human rights, usually referred to as civil rights in the USA and who is covered by them. They, along with every US Armed Forces Academy, should make it clear that during your commitments, you will be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and you should strive not only to have a clean civilian criminal record going into the armed forces but also leaving the armed forces with a clean criminal record under the UCMJ, with an honorable discharge and with a professional and pleasant attitude as you enter the VA TAP program.

Everything you can get in trouble for during commitments in the US Armed Forces is listed under sub chapter X Punitive Articles of the UCMJ. This includes civilian crimes like robbery, extortion, rape, arson, assault, murder and perjury but also crimes that would not be a crime in the civilian world such as misconduct as a prisoner, desertion, absence without leave, desertion, disobeying an order, contempt towards officials and even over drafting a checking account.

These reforms to the US Armed Forces Academies need to happen immediately and continue to be implemented regardless of who the next President of the United States is. They would include

  • Standardize the admission and enrollment process across all academies.
  • Require congressional nomination.
  • Require a physical fitness test.
  • Direct hire upon graduation.
  • Mandatory commitments.
  • No tuition.
  • Mandatory civilian re-entry through the VA TAP upon completion of commitments.
  • Introduction to current civilian workforce development programs as part of VA TAP.

There are two US Armed Forces graduate schools that possibly led to the confusion with the NSA Centers of Academic Excellence. These schools need to only be available to US Armed Forces Academy Graduates who have completed at least 1 commitment. Any civilians at one of the graduate schools should only be working in labs with the professors as part of a knowledge transfer or technology transfer program to the US Armed Forces. They should not be directly teaching any of commissioned officers nor should they be allowed to study alongside them as there are plenty of civilian colleges that teach subjects such as nuclear physics or cyber security that would be used in a civilian role.

The two schools are

The NSA should also plan on winding down and shutting down its NSA Centers of Academic Excellence within civilian universities and submit a proposal to the Pentagon for review by the Congressional Budget Office to open up its own US Armed Forces Academy. The academies should be directed at youth and should include firearms training as part of the academy.

It might also make sense to have the graduate studies run by DISA since it is a combat support agency and it makes sense that an intelligence officers career might start off in signals intelligence but progress into a sustained combat role.

Some proposed locations by students who were not qualified for a job with the US Armed Forces after attending an NSA Center of Academic Excellence include Utah or South Carolina for the NSA Armed Forces Academy and South Dakota or Texas for the DISA Graduate School.