Education/Training

Commission suggests creating reserve force of civilian cybersecurity experts

A new congressional report suggests piloting a reserves corps for federal civilian cybersecurity, along with several other recommendations to support the government’s effort to attract and retain cybersecurity talent.

The report, “Inspired to Serve,” was completed by the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, a commission mandated by the fiscal 2017 defense policy law. The report made several recommendations to bolster the civilian cybersecurity workforce, an area where the federal government has struggled to recruit and retain talent.

There are more than 500,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs between the public and private sector, according to CyberSeek.

The commission calls for a “demonstration project” of a civilian cybersecurity reserve, which would compel former government cybersecurity professionals to return to full-time employment if an agency leader decides it needs their resources. The pilot would be open to former civilian cybersecurity employees of the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency and transitioning members of the military with the right qualifications.

“A reserve program that permits agencies to call up cybersecurity experts could ensure additional cyber capacity at times of greatest need,” the report read. “By building the reserve program around cybersecurity experts who have left Government service for other opportunities, the program would also help the Government to maximize the value of taxpayer investment in developing their expertise.”

Agencies would compensate reservists and maintain their security clearances. Reservists would also receive credit toward the Federal Employee Retirement System pension, while certain employees would also be eligible to contribute to the Thrift Savings Plan.

Attracting top talent

The report also suggests that Congress amend federal law to allow all federal agencies to use special personnel authorities to hire civilian cybersecurity professionals, a tool that only DHS can use under current law.

DHS also has a special platform for hiring cybersecurity talent called the Cyber Talent Management System, which it uses to attract and retain new talent. The commission recommends that DHS issue guidance to agencies on how to successfully implement the system.

"All agencies need cybersecurity workers, but special hiring authorities for cybersecurity are not consistently available to all agencies,” the report said. "Extending an existing model to all agencies would harmonize this aspect of the personnel system across the Government and allow all agencies to compete effectively for high-demand cybersecurity talent.”

The report recommended that the Office of Personnel Management issue guidance allowing for a more amenable work environment that would allow cybersecurity and IT professionals to work flexible hours, telework, and access development tools and professional development programs. The report cited work done by the U.S. Digital Service with the Department of the Interior and the Department of Health and Human Services as an example of demonstrating “best practices for making full use of existing flexibility within competitive examining to hire technical talent.”

Under that recommendation, agency heads, chief information officers and chief human capital officers would be evaluated in part by their ability to take advantage of the system.

Additionally, the commission recommended an effort to bolster the cyber skills of federal employees, an effort already underway by the Office of Management and Budget, though that effort has had challenges due to the antiquated general-schedule hiring scale used for federal hiring.

The report also addresses several other hiring issues the federal government faces. The report was released March 25.

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