Meeting the Cyber Challenge

The announcement of a new U.S. Cyber Challenge by a coalition of government and private groups last month marks the latest salvo in what many agree is an increasingly serious shortage of skilled cybersecurity experts.

The difficulty of finding qualified cybersecurity professionals isn’t confined to government agencies. But as every federal chief information officer has learned firsthand, a combination of constraints and extraordinary demands have made it especially challenging for agencies to attract the talent the government needs.

Ron Sanders, chief human capital officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said the intelligence community has more than 1,000 open cybersecurity positions.

Longtime Justice Department CIO Vance Hitch estimates the federal government needs to hire at least 1,000 cybersecurity graduates a year to tackle all the work that needs to be done. And agencies need to change a number of practices, he said, if government expects to close the hiring gap.

Hitch’s assessment is supported by a new report prepared by the Partnership for Public Service and consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. The report examines the primary threats to the federal government’s ability to build the federal cybersecurity workforce it needs. The report's conclusions include:

  • Fragmented governance and uncoordinated leadership hinder the ability to meet federal cybersecurity workforce needs.
  • Complicated processes and rules hamper recruitment and retention efforts.
  • There is a disconnect between frontline hiring managers and government's human resource specialists.

Trying to increase the supply of skilled workers is perhaps the greatest challenge. And that’s the impetus that led to the U.S. Cyber Challenge.

The coalition behind that effort includes the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Defense Department Cyber Crime Center, the Air Force Association, the SANS Institute and a number of universities and aerospace companies.

Its aim is to identify 10,000 young Americans with the right aptitude and interest and then create a developmental career path for them. Initial plans call for a series of educational cyber camps and exercises that could help give them access to academic scholarships and employment opportunities.

Although the program's creators say the concept is still a work in progress, it is clearly a much-needed step in the right direction.

It is also probably just a matter of time before James Montgomery Flagg’s immortal 1917 World War I recruiting poster is updated with a new appeal: “Cyber geeks, Uncle Sam wants you!”

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