Red Tape Slows Federal Hiring of Cyber Security Pros

Susan Hall

A recent report found that innovators in federal government face huge barriers, but somehow manage to overcome them. Let's hope someone at the Department of Homeland Security is among them.


DHS needs hundreds of IT workers, especially in cyber security, but faces considerable challenges to hiring them. The agency is expected to spend $40 million this year on cyber security, but has trouble finding and keeping these workers. But that's not the half of it.


Federal Times lists among the hiring obstacles:

Lengthy security clearance reviews, flat budgets under the extended continuing resolution, the need for a strong business case, noncompetitive pay scales for IT talent, and an archaic job classification system that hinders effective human resources strategic planning.

So despite being authorized to hire 1,000 IT pros over three years, the agency hired only 200 last year and will add about 100 in 2011. The article says they will be spread across the Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Science and Technology Directorate and the Office of the Chief Information Officer, among other bureaus. These workers will be involved in risk and strategic analysis, incident response, and network and systems engineering.


Each branch must make a business case for the hiring, telling how it will protect the organization and whether it will improve the bottom line.


Customs and Border Protection, for instance, has selected 780 IT workers and 500 have begun working. Eighty percent of the hires are former contractors. It's looking for more entry and midlevel workers to balance a mostly senior staff. But the agencies have to deal with budgets in flux and for now are working off their fiscal year 2010 spending levels.


Ken Ritchhart, deputy assistant commissioner in CBP's Office of Information Technology, wants to fill the positions quickly. He's quoted in the article, saying:

... when the economy improves, folks won't spend six months waiting for a government job.

Meanwhile, in an effort to standardize expectations across agencies, the federal government has been trying to determine the required skills for cyber pros. The Office of Personnel Management released its "competency model for cybersecurity" in February. The government now is trying to determine the required positions and whether it can hire cyber pros under the current pay structure. So far, the Office of Personnel Management does not plan to create a new career path or "series" for them, something those in the field consider lacking.


At the same time, this InformationWeek article details DHS' efforts to collaborate with private-sector experts in cyber security. It details its issues with collaborating with myriad partners in state and local government, its "big data problem" of consolidating information from numerous agencies, its efforts to improve disaster preparedness and to use social media to do this better.

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