Alexander, who headed the NSA between 2005-2014, told a conference that a combination of higher paying private-sector jobs, negative media coverage, and other factors have created significant retention problems at the agency.
"I do hear that people are increasingly leaving in large numbers and it is a combination of things that start with [morale] and there’s now much more money on the outside," he said, according to CyberScoop, "I am honestly surprised that some of these people in cyber companies make up to seven figures. That’s five times what the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff makes…Do the math. [The NSA] has great competition."
Alexander feels that the low opinion of the NSA, brought on by bad press, is affecting retention as well. "You see politicians raising their phones saying, 'they’re listening to your phone calls, they’re reading your emails' … what we did is enrage people," he said, adding, "We gave them that impression based on the way that it was reported across all of the media."
Digital strategists are reported to be leaving the agency at an increasingly high rate, particularly within the last year. One former intelligence official suggested that the lagging spirit of the NSA community can impact even the more-driven employees. "Morale has always been an issue at NSA, with roughly 20 percent of the workforce doing 80 percent of the actual work," he said, "NSA is a place where people retire in place. At some point watching this behavior, even for motivated people, becomes highly demotivating."
At last year’s Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association cybersecurity summit, current NSA director Mike Reynolds suggested that collaboration between the public and private sectors could help the agency retain workers.
FedScoop quotes him saying, "I'm watching two different dynamics that don't understand each other…One of the ways I think we can help understand each other is if there is more cross pollination. How do we create mechanisms for the private sector to work with us, and us to work with the private sector and then come back."
One such mechanism, Rogers suggested, was a kind of "tour of duty" program that would assist private-sector workers in transitioning in and out of the intelligence community.
During a panel In early 2016, NSA human resources technical director John Yelnosky said that the issue is partly generational. It was pointed out that a quarter of millennials at the agency are turning over, and Yelonsky reasoned that people under 30 want "great technology; they want good spaces to work in; they want lots of development opportunities; they really want and expect all of those things," according to Defense One, "And there are employers who are more advanced than we are in providing that whole package."