Of the people: CyberCorps is training our future security leaders

Ira Hobbs

When'not if'cyberwarfare arrives, will we be able to defend ourselves? That is the basic question that we federal managers are asking.

Put another way, will agencies have enough people trained in the details and nuances of computer and network security to protect our critical information assets?

Today, the answer is no. But if the president's cybersecurity adviser's vision becomes reality, America will soon have a highly developed cybersecurity educational system producing information security specialists for the federal government.

Richard Clarke's vision is the CyberCorps, an exciting new federal scholarship-for-service program designed to train undergraduate and graduate students in information security. In return for six months to two years of fully funded training, CyberCorps students commit to federal service for one to two years. Sixty-six students have enrolled at six universities certified to participate in the program. The first class of CyberCorps students is to graduate this January.

I learned about the corps recently when I was invited to speak at the 2002 CyberCorps Conference hosted by Prof. Sujeet Shenoi at the University of Tulsa Center for Information Security. CyberCorps students and their professors gathered from around the country to meet one another and exchange ideas. They are clearly smart, motivated and excited about serving their country, both as teachers and practitioners in a critical endeavor.

Having met these people, it is clear to me the educational community is doing its part to increase the number of cyber-ready recruits. As potential employers, federal managers must now step up efforts to hire and retain this emerging cyber work force.

Right now, we in management are preparing our reports on our agencies' state of information security, as required by the Government Information Security Reform Act. As we review our information security vulnerabilities, risks and mitigation plans, we need to identify where we need CyberCorps skills and expertise. Then, as CyberCorps graduates prepare to enter our work force, we need to act swiftly to hire and nurture them, and monitor their progress. We must give them productive and challenging assignments.

I listened closely to Clarke and the other speakers at the conference. They spoke about'and charged the students with'the importance of their studies and their future role in homeland defense.

I was reminded of my own experience many years ago as a new, and, I might add, distinguished member of the inaugural class of the Presidential Management Intern program. We too were charged with the importance of our tasks and were similarly heralded in as new centurions in a changing world. Our success as PMIs was in large part due to those executives who recognized the need, strengthened our education and mentored us to be the leaders we are today.

You and I now have a similar opportunity to bring along tomorrow's cybersecurity leaders. I know we will be up to the task.

For more information on the CyberCorps program, check out www.opm.gov/hr/employ/products/recruitment/Scholarship/scholarshipmain.htm.

Ira Hobbs is acting CIO at the Agriculture Department and a member of the CIO Council.

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