Linda Hudson, CEO of BAE Systems Inc., said immigration reform could help the defense industry fill open positions requiring technical experts. (BAE Systems)
WASHINGTON — A leading US defense CEO made a strong plea for domestic immigration reform during a speech Tuesday morning, linking the defense industry’s increasingly dire need for talented engineers with the push to develop an easier path to citizenship for skilled and educated immigrants.
On a recent trip to India, BAE Systems Inc. CEO Linda Hudson said she was astounded by the highly skilled engineering and technological talent she saw in that country’s growing tech sector, lamenting “that’s the kind of talent I need” in her company’s IT and security business. Her company is the North American arm of BAE Systems.
But due to restrictive citizenship rules in the United States and a growing nationalism in emerging nations, that talent is increasingly hard to attract to the US defense industry.
“We ought to be supporting a path to citizenship” for immigrants who possess the kind of highly technical skills that are in such demand in the defense sector, which is increasingly being asked to produce highly complex and networked military systems, she told an audience at the Atlantic Council. Even American citizens who possess the technical and engineering skills defense companies seek are increasingly hard to recruit, since innovative and fun companies in Silicon Valley are snatching them up with promises of less regulation than government work demands.
Unlike tech innovators such as Google and Apple, “I need US citizens to work on classified programs. We are rapidly losing our technological superiority in America, and immigration can be an important tool to fill that gap. However, in the national security space, these immigrants need a path to citizenship to help keep our nation safe.”
A full 75 percent of people receiving engineering PhDs in American universities today are not US citizens, and three quarters of those are “untouchable by the Defense Department” because they are not interested in becoming US citizens in order to work for the defense industry, Hudson said.
In her company’s high tech and IT sectors, Hudson said, there are a “couple of thousand jobs” that she needs to fill that she can’t find the right talent for, and that “if we’re forced to forgo international talent we damn well ought to be doing something to produce that talent domestically.”
While she didn’t paint a picture of a defense industry nearing a state of collapse, Hudson did offer that she’s “very concerned about the supply base” given sequestration and the unclear strategic priorities coming from the political and military leadership in Washington.
In a nod to recent reports that the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle program — which BAE Systems is competing against General Dynamics to produce — will be put on hold due to budgetary issues, Hudson offered that combat vehicles “are not going to be a significant part of our business for years to come,” even with reset to the existing Bradley fleet on the horizon.