Program for Emerging Leaders


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; they should be GS-11 through GS-13 civilians (or equivalent ranks) or commissioned officers O-3 through O-4 and at a minimum have an undergraduate degree and three years of post-baccalaureate experience. Candidates must 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: Membership is limited to early- to mid-career U.S. government employees. 

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: Will PEL consider applications from enlisted service members or warrant officers?
A: No, at this time PEL will only accept applications from commissioned officers O-3 and O-4.


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, PEL is a graduate-level program. Therefore, a minimum of a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) is required.

Q: Can a single organization nominate more than one person for PEL?
A: Yes, there is no limit on how many nominations an individual or office can submit to PEL. However, PEL receives many more nominations than there are available slots. In the past, we have received up to 300 nominations from about 100 offices across government for approximately 25 slots. As a result, there is no guarantee that each nominating office will have even one candidate selected for PEL.

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. If you are accepted to PEL but are unable to make it for any reason to the Immersion, your membership is subject to revocation but you may request a deferral. 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.



Q: Will PEL events remain virtual in the new year?
Due to COVID-19, PEL remains virtual until 2022. Fall 2021 in-person events may be scheduled at the discretion of the PEL Director, but will be subject to pandemic restrictions and available to a limited number of members within 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 required PEL events (Summer Immersion and Academic Symposium) are generally covered by 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: 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 the services, departments, or agencies. The number of applications we receive varies from year to year and has increased every year since the program’s inception. The total number of applications PEL receives does not equal the number of applicants who have applied within their organizations first and not been selected to be sent with their organization’s endorsement to the WMD Center. (Not all organizations run their own internal selection processes before sending on candidates who have their endorsement and PEL welcomes direct applications from eligible candidates.)

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 their organizations 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?
No. If you are applying to PEL, you must hold an active U.S. SECRET clearance in time to attend Summer Immersion in June.


Q: I am very interested in this field of study, but would like to know if the program awards a master’s degree since I have already completed one in a related field of study.
A: PEL is not a degree-granting program; however, it is now possible to receive graduate school credit from National Defense University, if you complete certain additional requirements (reading and writing assignments) and attend your Summer Immersion, Academic Symposium, additional trips, and meetings. For more information, please see the FAQs on earning NDU academic credit.

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 site visits and seminars 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, there are no formal requirements that should impact a member’s daily work schedule.





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.

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; 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 form PEL staff may result in disenrollment from PEL.





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: 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?
Academic Symposium is an annual two-day event for PEL and CWMD Graduate Fellowship members learn about a specific WMD topic from speakers and explore it through questions and answers, discussion, and sometimes tabletop exercises. Past topics include: biological weapons, deterrence and major powers, deterrence and rogue states, deterrence and non-state actors, North Korea, and Iran.

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.

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.