Education/Training

Commissions lobby for cyber reforms in the defense policy bill

Three commissions created by Congress are now pressuring lawmakers to include several cyber workforce recommendations in this year’s defense policy bill.

Top leaders from the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, and the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service signed a joint letter dated May 4 urging top members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees to implement several recommendations to improve the government’s attraction, management and retention of cyber professionals.

“The United States is in a fierce competition to maintain its role as the leading world innovator,” leaders of the commissions wrote. “Losing our edge jeopardizes U.S. national security, U.S. global leadership and alliances, and, importantly, our values. In this strategic, global competition, the advantage will go to the competitor that can best attract, train, and retain world-class talent.”

The Cyberspace Solarium Commission, chaired by Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, urged the congressional committees to in turn push the Department of Defense to expedite the security clearance process, as well as research and develop clearer cyber workforce career paths and leadership roles across government.

The commission also urged committee leaders to boost funding for the CyberCorps program, a scholarship-for-service program meant as a pathway into the federal cyber workforce. The commission wants the program to graduate 2,000 students per year, a sharp rise over the 3,600 students it graduated since the program launched in 2001.

The defensive and espionage missions undertaken by the National Security Agency require efforts from some of the top tech operators in the world, and these operators must come from somewhere. Enter the NSA's partner institutions — designated Centers of Academic Excellence. (Bernard Leonard Wilchusky Jr./University of West Florida)
Inside the NSA’s plan to lure cyber talent

The defensive and espionage missions undertaken by the National Security Agency require efforts from some of the top tech operators in the world, and these operators must come from somewhere. Enter the NSA's partner institutions — designated Centers of Academic Excellence.

“While the implications of these workforce recommendations reach beyond the DoD and national security agencies, the organizations within the jurisdiction of the Armed Services Committees stand to feel the greatest impact of the success or failure of these efforts because an outsized proportion of the federal cyber workforce serves the national security mission,” King and Gallagher wrote.

Gallagher and King are scheduled to testify virtually on their report to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on May 13. Gallagher recently said that the commission wants about 30 percent of its recommendations included in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.

The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, established by the fiscal 2019 NDAA to “consider the methods and means necessary to advance the development of artificial intelligence” for national security purposes, pushed for the legislation to include the expansion of the Cyber Excepted Service program to incorporate artificial intelligence programs. The Cyber Excepted Service program is a DoD program for managing civilian cyber talent, and offers recruitment and retention flexibilities.

Creating a new AI-specific hiring authority would only add to “the confusing proliferation of authorities,” the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence commissioners wrote. Its recommendations are part of its November 2019 interim report. Its final report is due March 2021.

The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, mandated by the FY17 NDAA, called on Congress to authorize every federal agency to adopt the Department of Homeland Security’s Cyber Talent Management System, a designated platform to manage DHS’ cybersecurity professionals.

It also pushed congressional leaders to start piloting a federal civilian cybersecurity reserve that would be run by DHS and the National Security Agency. Reservists would be called up in the event of an emergency that “exhausts agency cybersecurity capability.”

“To attract top talent, the government must streamline its hiring processes and recruit beyond conventional pathways into government,” the leaders of the commissions wrote. “Most, if not all, of the hiring authorities to do so are already in place, but institutional and cultural barriers reduce their use. To improve, we should encourage the use of existing authorities in a manner that maximizes flexibility to hire personnel for select billets and position descriptions. We should also collect better data and promote research on workforce dynamics to inform our next steps.”

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