OPM speeds IT security worker hiring

'This is definitely something we need to meet the demand in areas where IT people are hard to find.'

'Justice department CIO Vance Hitch

Henrik G. DeGyor

To meet what federal managers see as a dire need for cybersecurity experts, the Office of Personnel Management last month gave agencies the authority to hire IT security professionals much more quickly than other workers.

The decision lets agencies cut the federal hiring process to a month from more than four months, agency CIOs said.

'This lets us deal with our critical needs faster,' said Justice Department CIO Vance Hitch. 'This is definitely something we need to meet the demand in areas where IT people are hard to find.'

In addition to a long-standing shortage of qualified IT security workers, agencies also face pressure from the Office of Management and Budget goal to certify and accredit the security of 80 percent of all IT systems by December.

So OPM extended to all agencies the direct-hire authority Congress gave it in the Homeland Security Act of 2002. OPM director Kay Coles James granted these and other authorities under regulations her agency published in the Federal Register June 13.

Permanent authority

Agencies can use the authority for positions with a grade of GS-9 or higher. The IT security position direct-hire authority is permanent, James said.

'The new authority presents a real opportunity to address serious hiring problems,' James said.
Hitch can attest to the problems. He said Justice has hired four IT security professionals this year and plans to take on at least two more by October, and eight additional employees if funding comes through for fiscal 2004.

'Once you are set to hire, you can't wait through this long process, because you have to give the candidate an answer more quickly than the six months it can take,' said Hitch, who also is the chairman of the CIO Council's Cybersecurity and Privacy Committee.

Lynn McNulty, a former IT security manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said the government must find a way to compete with the private sector when trying to hire workers who are in high demand.

'This is symbolic of the fact people are realizing IT security is not a technical problem,' said McNulty, who now is director of governmental affairs for the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium Inc. of Framingham, Mass., a nonprofit group that certifies security personnel. 'I'm pleased OPM recognizes IT security has become a separate and distinct career field.'


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