Challenges and way ahead for cybersecurity workforce in today’s federal government
By Michael Ugarte
Office of Strategic Communication and Public Affairs
August 2, 2022
The Federal Workforce
U.S. federal government workforce studies determined that government agencies continue to experience a steady increase in employee turnover rates – a trend for several decades. This trend has required the federal government to assess and better understand employee shortages, recruitment roadblocks, and what motivates an employee to leave the federal workforce altogether.
Cyber Workforce Challenges
According to the 2022 Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community – annually published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the cyber field continues to be a significant and challenging area of concern for national security.
The Chief Information Officers Council predicts the federal government will experience a shortage of 1.8 million cyber professionals in 2022. This shortage translates into a lack of qualified cyber-focused professionals necessary to serve and protect the nation's critical infrastructure. The Chief Information Officers Council is in place to help improve agency practices related to the design, acquisition, development, modernization, use, sharing and performance of federal information resources.
The protection of U.S. interests from cyber threats requires qualified cyber security professionals. An area of concern that the Government Accountability Office is aware of together with the continued shortage of cybersecurity professionals and the rise of federal government turnover.
Dr. Tewanda L. Wooten, Joint Interoperability Test Command technical advisor, said that according to her research, recruiting, employing and retaining cybersecurity professionals has been a never-ending challenge for government hiring managers. Urgent requirements from federal agencies and continuous cyber challenges increase the demand for hiring managers to recruit the skills needed to meet their agencies' critical needs. However, cybersecurity and IT professionals need more than attributes listed on a resume. They need to have the essential competency skills required for a respective area of focus and the ability to speak intelligently about an action or project's technical requirements.
As civil servant turnover steadily increases, the lack of cybersecurity recruitment continues. Hiring managers express the difficulties in recruiting ideal candidates who demonstrate the required skillsets and the capabilities needed to meet job requirements. An article published by Christensen & Petersen, 2017, noted that hiring a suitable cybersecurity professional means hiring a qualified candidate who demonstrates a balance of both experience and knowledge across the field. These attributes will continue to be in high demand across government agencies – meaning that unless something changes to address the challenges, hiring managers will continue to experience recruitment challenges.
Research demonstrates that cybersecurity remains a top priority. However, the federal government continues to suffer because of a cybersecurity workforce lack in numbers.
“The lack of numbers deserves attention so that roles continue to fill with knowledgeable, experienced and qualified cyber professionals,” said Wooten.
Active military service members offer a viable solution to filling cyber security personnel gaps through their active duty assignments, thanks to their military training, education background, and hard/soft skills.
"Providing cyber workforce initiatives for military veterans gives them a clear pathway toward a career in cyber with the federal civilian service,” Wooten said. “Helping address the current workforce shortages while allowing veterans an opportunity to serve their country – again."
Another solution could be to attract and recruit civilians from the private industry with those skills and experiences in demand to help fill federal workforce gaps.
One solution in place helping to spur cyber recruitment across the Department of Defense is the Cyber Excepted Service Program. The Cyber Excepted Service is an enterprise-wide approach for managing civilian cyber professionals across the DOD. The program aligns with Title 10 and Title 5 provisions, offering flexibility for the recruitment, retention and development of cyber professionals across departments.
Cyber Excepted Service Benefits
- Cyber Excepted Service offers flexibilities to streamline hiring procedures - to quickly acquire talent
- Pay Setting for new Cyber Excepted Service appointments (hires) can start as high as step 12
- Qualification-based, no time-in-grade, requirements for promotion opportunities
- Quality step increase awards up to step 12, with justification
- Compensation initiatives such as targeted local market supplement pay for positions coded with one of the identified seven codes (321/461/511/531/611/612/621) as the primary work role code
- Cyber Workforce Rotation Program pilot that offers rotational assignments across the DOD cyber community
Bookmark and frequently visit DISA.mil/Careers and USAJobs.gov for all current DISA career advancement opportunities, as well as the Office of Personnel Management CyberCareers.gov site. These career resources can be valuable tools for active or retired military service members with a cyber-related background and civilians seeking growth within the cyber career fields.
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