Program for Emerging Leaders


The Program

Q: What kind of opportunities does PEL offer members?
A: PEL offers lectures and seminars with leading scholars and practitioners. Some of the leaders PEL members have met with include current and former U.S. officials at the Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Under Secretary, and Assistant Secretary levels from the Department of Defense, Department of State, and Department of Energy, as well as Combatant Commanders and other senior U.S. commanders.

The program also provides a unique opportunity for members to visit offices across government with responsibilities related to WMD and learn from today’s leaders. PEL members have visited the White House, CIA Headquarters, the Pentagon, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, the Defense Nuclear Weapons School, the Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Northern Command, the FBI Headquarters and Laboratory, and the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center.

Q: What is the time commitment for PEL?
A: PEL members must attend 90 contact hours of programming over the course of their three-year membership to successfully complete the program. The average time commitment for meetings is about two weeks for the first year of membership and one week for each subsequent year. Participation in the one-week Summer Immersion for first-year members is a non-negotiable requirement for membership. If you are unable to commit to take part in Summer Immersion, you should not apply for PEL. All members are expected to attend the Academic Symposium each year of their three-year membership term in the program. Members should also be able to make a good faith commitment to take part in other activities as responsibilities permit. The WMD Center reserves the right to revoke membership for failure to participate in PEL activities. We make every effort to offer a variety of different activities of varying duration at different times of the year and day so that each PEL member will have plenty of opportunities to complete their contact hour requirement.

Q: Will PEL events remain virtual in the new year?
A: We anticipate and hope that events in 2022 and beyond will be in-person, though this is subject to pandemic and other restrictions. We will also continue to offer some virtual events to benefit our members who are based outside of the NCR.

Q: Who is responsible for program-related expenses?
A: There is no formal tuition or application fee associated with PEL. Funding for travel and lodging costs is being determined on a by-event basis. Reasonable TDY costs for PEL events are generally covered by the program.

Note: Some travel costs may be covered by the NDU Foundation, which is not considered a federal source of funding. In this instance, PEL members will be required to check with their agencies to ascertain that they can accept non-federally funded travel (NFFT) and to complete any necessary administrative procedures at their home agencies. Should this be the case, PEL staff will inform the members of this requirement at the earliest opportunity.

Q: While the Program for Emerging Leaders is a three-year program, what exactly can be expected in terms of the work load and what do you mean by minimal impact on daily work schedule?
A: All PEL members are required to attend the Summer Immersion during the first year, are expected to attend their three Academic Symposia, and should participate in other events as their schedules permit. PEL members are also expected to think of ways they can give back to the program, whether by hosting a site visit at their agency or planning a networking event. That being said, PEL is not a full-time program, and there are no formal requirements that should impact a member’s daily work schedule. While 90 hours may sound overwhelming, most members do not have an issue meeting the requirement within three years.

Q: What if I am deployed or other job-related responsibilities prevent me from completing the course requirements in 3 years?
A: The inability to participate in PEL activities due to extenuating circumstances (e.g. extended TDY, active duty deployment, etc.) is permissible, and we will usually work with you to extend your membership term. However, PEL members must submit reasons for extended non-attendance/non-participation to PEL staff. Failure to attend activities for a full program year without advance justification, communication to, and approval from PEL staff may result in disenrollment from PEL.

Q: Who and what are the Senior Mentors?
A: The Senior Mentors are current or retired U.S. government employees who have all had long and varied careers in the countering WMD community. They act as a resource for PEL members, providing advice when requested, sharing their understandings and experiences from their own careers, and acting as a sounding board for career development. They also provide guidance to the PEL staff, participating in the selection of the cohort and acting as an advisory committee. For a full list of the Senior Mentors, see here.




Applying to PEL

Q: Who is eligible to apply for membership in the Program for Emerging Leaders?
A: Applicants must be early- to mid-career U.S. government employees. For the purposes of PEL, we define this as GS-11 through GS-13 civilians (or equivalent ranks) or commissioned officers O-3 through O-4. Candidates must at a minimum have an undergraduate degree and three years of post-baccalaureate experience, and hold an active U.S. SECRET level security clearance. A professional or academic background in WMD is not required. However, applicants must have responsibilities related to national security, have leadership potential, and demonstrate an interest in learning about WMD issues.

Q: Are government contractors eligible for membership?
A: Unfortunately, membership is limited to U.S. government employees only. 

Q: Are Reserves members, NDMS responders, or other part-time government employees eligible to apply?
A: As of 2022, only full-time government employees or service members are eligible to apply. However, if you fall into one of these categories and would like to participate in the program, please send us an email, as this could change in the future.

Q: Do employees of the national laboratories qualify as civil servants?
A: Unfortunately, as of 2022, employees of the national laboratories are no longer eligible for PEL.

Q: The minimum membership requirements state that applicants must be early- to mid-career U.S. government employees, GS-11 through GS-13. I am mid-career (I have about 20 years to go before I retire), but I’m a GS-14. Might I still be eligible to apply?
A: No, only GS-11 through GS-13 (or equivalent ranks) and commissioned officers O-3 and O-4 are eligible to apply.

Q: I am about to be promoted to O-3 or GS-11 or have just been promoted to O-5 or GS-14. Can I still apply?
A: No. All candidates must be between GS-11 and GS-13 or O-3 and O-4 to be considered for inclusion in the program.

Q: I currently am currently at one of the eligible ranks/grades, but expect to be promoted during my membership to O-5 or GS-14. Will I be able to complete the program if promoted?
A: Yes. As emerging leaders, we expect our members to seek growth opportunities and promotions. The eligibility criteria only apply to the time of application.


Q: I am a federal employee who is the equivalent of a GS-11-13, but my organization does not use the GS scale. Am I eligible?

A: Yes, we welcome candidates from the Foreign Service and other offices or agencies that use a different government pay scale. Please make your best guess as to the GS equivalent and indicate that on the application form.


Q: Will PEL consider applications from enlisted service members or warrant officers?
A: At this time PEL will only accept applications from commissioned officers O-3 and O-4. However, please email us if you are an enlisted service member interested in participating, as this may change in the future.


Q: I have an associate’s degree or other degree from a junior or community college, but have not completed a bachelor’s degree. Will that fulfill the education requirement for PEL? 
A: No, minimum of a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) is required.

Q: Can a single organization nominate more than one person for PEL?
A: Yes. We do not have quotas for specific agencies or offices, and there is no guarantee that each nominating office will have even one candidate selected for PEL, but there is also no limit on how many nominations an individual or office can submit to PEL.


Q: Do I need to have a background in WMD to become a member?
A: No, selection for membership in the program is based foremost on demonstrated leadership potential in the U.S. government, although candidates must demonstrate an interest in WMD and explain why PEL would benefit their careers in their applications.

Q: Is there a model candidate for PEL?
A: No, there is no archetypal profile for membership in PEL. It is a program designed to benefit the U.S. government by bringing together people from diverse backgrounds and expertise who demonstrate the greatest potential for leadership in the U.S. government and teaching them about WMD and related issues.

Q: What factors does the PEL selection panel consider in making its decisions?
A: The primary selection criteria for PEL are a candidate’s motivation and career potential to reach senior positions in the U.S. government. The selection committee looks closely at each candidate’s career path and evaluates his/her future potential based on the candidate’s official academic transcript, resume, personal statement, and letter of recommendations. Candidates who have many years of experience and have held supervisory positions within their organizations do not generally have an advantage over their less-experienced counterparts who have been identified by their leadership as rising stars within the U.S. government.

Q: Are there a specific number of slots allocated for services, departments, or agencies?
A: No, there are no slots allocated for specific services, departments, or agencies. The number of applications we receive varies from year to year, and there is a different mix of agencies in the candidate pool each year. The makeup of the cohort very much depends on the applications we receive.

Q: Do I need to be nominated by my agency?

A: It depends on the agency. Some agencies run their own internal selection processes because they only want to send a certain number of candidates. Others prefer you to apply directly. From the PEL perspective, we welcome direct applications from eligible candidates, and there is no limit on the number of individuals who can apply from any one agency. 

Q: Is there an additional service commitment for this program?
A: PEL does not levy an additional service commitment for service members if you are selected for and participate in the program. However, we try to identify and select those people who will go on to serve as senior leaders in government and we are looking for people who are committed to a career in government service.

Q: Can you offer guidance on the personal statement, specifically an appropriate length and preferred format that would be considered acceptable for my application?
A: Your personal statement may be up to two double-spaced pages and should be written in full paragraphs without bullets. You should explain how membership in PEL would benefit your career and discuss what you would bring to the program and your fellow members.

Q: Would a print out of my resume be considered acceptable for the resume requirement of this package or would a business style resume be considered more appropriate?
A: No, we would like to receive a resume or CV no more than two pages long.

Q: Do I need to submit an official transcript or will an unofficial transcript copied from the web suffice?
A: You must submit an electronic or scanned copy of your official transcript (even if a “void” or “draft” watermark appears upon scanning). Web-based unofficial transcripts will not be accepted.

Q: My transcript arrived from my university in a sealed, stamped envelope. If I open the envelope, the university says it will no longer be considered official. Would you like me to open the envelope or mail the transcript directly to you?
A: Please open the envelope and scan the transcript for inclusion with your emailed application. We cannot accept transcripts that have been mailed directly to us as our mail security system often leads to significant delays and/or illegible documents upon arrival. Applicants who mail their transcripts directly risk having their applications rejected for being incomplete. 

Q: Is there a possibility of getting a waiver for the secret clearance requirement?
A: No. If you are applying to PEL, you must hold an active U.S. SECRET clearance in time to attend Summer Immersion in June.





Certificate Program

Q. How can I earn NDU academic credit as a PEL member?
A: In addition to receiving a PEL Certificate upon completion of the three-year program, PEL members may opt to earn six hours of academic credit awarded by the National Defense University. In order to obtain credit, PEL members must fulfill the following requirements:   

1. PEL members must accumulate a minimum of 90 contact hours in PEL activities. The 90 contact hours can be completed by attending the Summer Immersion (40 hours), three Academic Symposia (48 hours), and at least one seminar or site visit.

2. PEL members must submit two written assignments:

a. A two-page essay on leadership in the realm of WMD is required. This can either summarize lessons taken from PEL or it can be original commentary.

b. A research/analytical paper of 15-20 pages in length addressing a major WMD challenge raised during one of the PEL activities during their three years period of enrollment in the program. All paper topics must be submitted in proposal format to the PEL Director for review and approval by no later than 1 October of the member’s third year. The paper should critically and strategically assess the WMD challenge, placing it in a broader security context, addressing policy options, and making policy recommendations. Final drafts of all written materials must be submitted no later than March 15 of the same academic year unless the student has been granted an extension.





Summer Immersion

Q: What is Summer Immersion?
A: Summer Immersion is the first meeting of the incoming PEL class. It is a week-long introduction to WMD and related policy issues. During Summer Immersion we will visit and hear from policymakers who work on WMD issues, including those at the State Department, Pentagon, and National Security Council. Summer Immersion is a chance to get to know your fellow PEL members and begin to form the relationships that we hope to foster among next generation leaders.

Q: What are the dates for Summer Immersion?
A: For the 2022 cohort, Summer Immersion will be held from 20-24 June 2022.

Q: Who attends Summer Immersion?
All members of an incoming PEL class attend Summer Immersion. In addition, PEL Senior Mentors will join the new members throughout the week to answer questions and impart wisdom based on their years of government service.

Q: What will I learn from Summer Immersion?
At the end of the week, you will have a sense of the breadth of issues related to WMD and the offices and departments which address them. You will have met and gotten to spend time with your fellow members, making connections we hope you will begin to rely on in your work. You will have met and heard from the program’s Senior Mentors and begun to understand the resource they represent.

Q: What is the time commitment for Summer Immersion?
 PEL members can expect Summer Immersion activities to run all day each day, from approximately 0800 to 1700. PEL staff will provide incoming PEL members with arrival and departure times for each day in advance of the event. Failure to attend any required portions of the event can be grounds for removal from the program.

Q: I want to apply to PEL but I have a scheduling conflict the first two days of Summer Immersion. If I were selected, would there be any leeway? Could I miss one or two days of Summer Immersion?
Summer Immersion is packed full of interesting meetings. It is also the first time your class will be together, so it is a chance to meet and get to know your fellow members. Based on these two reasons, you will not be excused from any days of Summer Immersion. If you have a scheduling conflict, you will not be able to participate in PEL that year and may need to request a deferral or re-apply if you wish to join the program in the future.




Academic Symposium

Q: What is the Academic Symposium?
The Academic Symposium is an annual two-day event for PEL and CWMD Graduate Fellowship members to learn about a specific WMD topic from speakers and explore it through questions and answers, discussion, and sometimes tabletop exercises. Past topics include: chemical weapons use, nuclear proliferation, policymaking and the interagency, and the non-governmental community.

Q: What is the purpose of Academic Symposium?
Academic Symposium offers PEL members two opportunities. First, members receive an in-depth introduction to a specific WMD topic by experts in the field. Second, they have a chance to renew their acquaintances with members of their own PEL class and meet and network with members of other classes as well as the CWMD Grad Fellows. This is the only time during the year when all current PEL members get together.

Q: Who attends the Academic Symposium?
All current members of PEL are expected to attend Academic Symposium. This means that by the end of a PEL member’s three-year term, he or she will have attended three Academic Symposia.

Q: Is attendance at Academic Symposium mandatory?
We will make every effort to provide the date for the workshop months in advance, but it is understood that some members’ work obligations may preclude their attendance.

Q: When is Academic Symposium typically held?
In late February or early March each year, usually on a Thursday and Friday. For planning purposes this means that any members who need to travel from outside the National Capital Region will likely travel on Wednesday and Saturday.

For the 2019, 2020, and 2021 cohorts, the Academic Symposium will take place on 23 and 24 March 2022.

Q: Who covers travel costs?
The WMD Center typically covers reasonable travel costs for PEL members living and working outside the National Capital Region to attend Academic Symposium. However, in the event that budget constraints affect funding availability, coverage of TDY costs is not guaranteed.

Q: Do I need to submit my clearance to attend Academic Symposium?
 No, we should already have that on record, although if the one-year permanent certification of your clearance has expired, we will ask you to permanently certify your clearance again.