GAO Dings Federal Management of Cyber Security Work Force

Susan Hall
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The federal government's difficulty in defining cyber security skills and roles were reiterated in an audit by the General Accountability Office. Its report found fragmented and overlapping efforts to attract, manage and retain the federal cyber security work force.


Eight agencies were studied: Defense, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Treasury, Veterans Affairs, Commerce, Transportation and Justice. It found all failed to adequately coordinate, plan and evaluate their cyber security work force efforts. It also found comprehensive efforts reported earlier, such as those by the CIO Council, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Office of Personnel Management and DHS potentially duplicative. It called for more coordination of efforts.


According to one such effort, the Cybersecurity Workforce Framework, created by the National Initiative on Cybersecurity Education:

Today, there is little consistency in how cybersecurity work is defined or described throughout the federal government and the nation. The absence of a common language to discuss and understand the work and skill requirements of cybersecurity professionals hinders our nation's ability to baseline capabilities, identify skill gaps, develop cybersecurity talent in the current work force and prepare the pipeline of future talent. ...

Without clear-cut roles and a specific federal occupational series that identifies such positions, agencies had difficulty defining the size of their cyber security work force, since some workers might also be doing other tasks. Defense dwarfs the other agencies in cyber security workers, reporting 66,000 full-time equivalent positions for 2010, with Justice a distant second at 2,887.


It also found training and professional development varied by agency. For example, Commerce and Defense required workers to get certifications and meet continuing education requirements. Other agencies, not so much, reports Federal Computer Week.


Highly technical positions were the most difficult to fill and some agencies offer incentives, such as higher salaries, student loan repayment and additional leave time, but the GAO found no efforts to analyze their effectiveness.


It lauded the Scholarship for Service program, run by the National Science Foundation, which produces 125 to 150 graduates a year who agree to work in the federal government for at least two years in exchange for scholarships, though it, too, lacked analysis to determine whether participants remain in the government long-term, according to Government Computer News.

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