While the Department of Homeland Security outlined the need for hundreds of new IT workers, it faces numerous obstacles that have stalled its efforts.
Lengthy security clearance procedures, a stagnant budget, the need for a proven business case, noncompetitive pay scales for IT workers, and an archaic job classification system have all hindered DHS’s efforts to hire new IT personnel.
Because of this, IT hiring goals have been far from expected. Although the DHS was approved to hire up to 1,000 new cybersecurity experts over three years, it only hired about 200 last year and plans to hire about 100 more this year.
One of the primary problems is that government agencies are being funded at 2011 levels under a continuing resolution, making budgets tighter than expected. Because of this, projecting hiring numbers has been difficult at the DHS, said Jeff Neal, DHS chief human capital officer. This has also made it difficult for agencies to make good business cases on how new hiring will affect the bottom line and save money.
However, DHS’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency has selected 780 IT workers, 500 of which have begun working, said Ken Ritchhart, deputy assistant commissioner in CBP’s Office of Information Technology, in Federal Times. These workers are primarily senior level cybersecurity experts working on the higher grades of 13, 14, and 15 of the Office of Personnel Management’s cybersecurity competency model. The hiring goal now is to hire more entry and mid-level workers to balance the staff.
At least 80 percent of CBP’s hires came from insourcing, which is expected to be an ongoing trend due to the shortage of cybersecurity professionals, said John Lainhart, who leads the cybersecurity and privacy service area for the firm IMB. Lainhart’s concern is filling these positions soon, since “when the economy improves, folks won’t spend six months waiting for a government job." Lengthy clearance procedures haven’t helped, he admitted, although some have been processed in as little as three months.
Another hurdle has been defining cybersecurity job titles, necessary skills and hiring projections for some agencies. OPM hopes that a cybersecurity survey finished in October will help answer these questions.
One way the DHS is looking to find cybersecurity staff, is with its first cybersecurity internship programs. "We are looking to build a cybersecurity workforce from the ground up, rather than hire those already trained," said Nicole Dean, Deputy Director of the National Cyber Security Division at DHS.