Cybersecurity hiring continues to be a problem in this country, particularly in the public sector. Recently, Max Stier, President and CEO, Partnership for Public Service, highlighted some key facts and issues before the House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, & Innovation.

Challenges in Hiring Cyber Talent in Federal Government

Stier educated the committee in his testimony about some rather startling numbers that his organization dug up in their research.

  • In the federal IT workforce, there are 16 times more employees over the age of 50 than under age 30.
  • Roughly one-third of full-time employees on board at the beginning of fiscal 2019 will be eligible to retire by the end of fiscal 2023.
  • Use of the federal Pathways intern program, which should be a main pipeline into federal service, has plummeted.
  • According to the fiscal 2020 budget request, the number of new hires of student interns fell from 35,000 in 2010 to 4,000 in 2018.

He then went on to describe a multitude of challenges and problems surrounding hiring cyber workers in the federal government. Many of these could be applied to other career fields (based on my personal observations) and include such things as cumbersome application and hiring processes, utilizing more private/public sector collaborative projects to recruit, educating the public on opportunities within the government sector, and building a better brand and image. 

Key Recommendations to change the Cyber Talent Gap

Some of the key recommendations from the Partnership for Public Service were:

  • Establishing a civilian cybersecurity reserve program, as proposed in the bipartisan Civilian Cyber Security Reserve Act (H.R. 2894).
  • Allowing agencies to appoint federal employees who have successfully completed reskilling programs to positions in their new field without the employee having to move to a lower grade level, as proposed by the bipartisan Facilitating Federal Employee Reskilling Act (S. 1330).
  • Amending the criteria for direct hire authority to enable agencies to use this authority when they face a shortage of highly qualified applicants.
  • Expanding direct hiring authority for students and recent graduates.
  • Modernizing the veterans’ preference rules, which are currently confusing for both agencies and veterans alike.
  • Improving the Pathways programs, which include the Presidential Management Fellows and Intern and recent graduate programs.

Innovative Approaches Needed to Get Cyber Talent

Many of their recommendations are solving some problems that I have experienced personally. Why couldn’t we go recruit a brilliant local college cybersecurity graduate to become an officer in my guard unit or if I could, why was it made so difficult? Reskilling programs are usually a huge success – just look at the 184th Wing and other ANG units that lost aircraft and had to switch missions. Most didn’t miss a beat as the unit members had already bought into wing culture. Finally, does anybody really understand the Veteran’s preference scoring without copious education on the subject? Does it need to be that hard?

While Stier did not go as far as to say pay workers top dollar and match the private sector, he did point out how antiquated and inflexible the federal pay system. For those fans of cyber policy and law, in charge of hiring or retention at a federal agency, or simply concerned about the demand outweighing supply in this career field, I would recommend you dive in and find recommendations to apply.


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Joe Jabara, JD, is the Director, of the Hub, For Cyber Education and Awareness, Wichita State University. He also serves as an adjunct faculty at two other universities teaching Intelligence and Cyber Law. Prior to his current job, he served 30 years in the Air Force, Air Force Reserve, and Kansas Air National Guard. His last ten years were spent in command/leadership positions, the bulk of which were at the 184th Intelligence Wing as Vice Commander.