OPM gives agencies direct-hire authority

Agencies needing to fill IT security positions quickly now have the authority to directly hire these individuals.

Kay Coles James, director of the Office of Personnel Management, today sent a memo to agency heads and Chief Human Capital Officers granting these and other initial authorities under regulations her agency published in the Federal Register June 13.

Congress gave OPM direct-hire authority in the Homeland Security Act of 2002.

Besides IT security employees, OPM's regulations let agencies hire doctors, nurses and pharmacists. OPM also gave the Securities and Exchange Commission authority to hire accountants, economists and securities compliance examiners.

'I am not waiting to be asked in those situations where the shortages and critical needs are well-known and a direct-hire authority can make a real difference,' James said. 'The new authority presents a real opportunity to address serious hiring problems.'

Federal officials and observers have said there is a shortage of qualified IT security workers in agencies. And with the Office of Management and Budget's goal to certify and accredit 80 percent of all IT systems by December, the need is ever growing.

In the fiscal 2004 budget submission, OMB said improving security education and awareness is a common governmentwide IT security weakness. OMB is addressing this through online courses.

'The government is taking the cybersecurity issue very seriously and doing its best to staff up to meet requirements,' said Lynn McNulty, director of governmental affairs for the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium Inc. of Framingham, Mass., a not-for-profit that certifies security personnel. 'This is symbolic of the fact people are realizing IT security is not a technical problem. It requires skilled and trained managers and professionals to manage complex problems. I'm pleased OPM recognizes IT security has become a separate and distinct career field on par with doctors and others health care professionals.'

McNulty, a former federal IT security manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said the federal government had to find a way to compete with the hiring practices in the private sector for these kinds of scarce resources.

Agencies also can request OPM grant other specific direct-hire authorities. OPM will provide additional guidance about the types of situations that this new ability could address.

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