EDITOR'S DESK—Commentary

Wyatt Kash | Cybersecurity coordinator needs to close the talent gap

President Barack Obama’s widely anticipated plan for confronting the nation’s escalating cybersecurity threats has drawn a lot of praise — and some justified criticism -- from the cybersecurity community.

The loudest concerns have come from skeptics who contend the new cybersecurity coordinator's office ultimately lacks the political or budgetary authority needed to adequately manage a multitude of issues.

On the surface, the concern is legitimate. Obama, to his credit, vowed to select his new cybersecurity chief personally and promised that he or she would have the president’s ear. But in the end, his new cybersecurity coordinator still must serve two masters, working jointly for the National Security Council and the National Economic Council.

Then there’s the need to reconcile the often incongruent needs and responsibilities of the Homeland Security Department and the National Security Agency.

And that’s not to mention dealing with a broad array of issues working with the private sector. William Jackson’s report in this issue on how the government and the electrical utility industry are trying to advance the use of smart grid technologies is just one example of the kind of coordination that must be tackled in securing the nation’s infrastructure.

So without question, whoever takes the job will need enormous political skills.

What the skeptics tend to gloss over, however, is the underlying checkerboard of legal responsibilities and requirements dispersed across a number of federal departments and agencies. Consolidating authority for cybersecurity in a unified structure, the way many had hoped, would inevitably require a significant amount of legislation — and untold delays in addressing a host of urgent needs.

As imperfectly delegated as the cybersecurity coordinator position may be, the chances of advancing government cybersecurity efforts sooner rather than later appear more promising than had the White House tried a wholesale restructuring of cybersecurity programs.

Those chances are certainly enhanced by Obama’s unprecedented personal commitment to making cybersecurity a national security issue and a core part of his management agenda.

With that said, clearly one of the largest challenges — among many -- is how to close the talent gap of cybersecurity specialists in government.

Not surprisingly, most of the largest military contractors have begun buying or building out cybersecurity teams and trying to attract what some are calling “hacker soldiers.”  That will draw from what remains a limited supply of individuals with advanced cybersecurity skills. Finding new ways to expand that pool and attract a new generation of cybersecurity specialists into government will hopefully be high on the list of whoever takes the cybersecurity coordinator’s job.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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