Allison Snell from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency talked with ClearanceJobs about her role on the agency’s Election Security Initiative leadership team and their work in securing the U.S. elections.

CISA’s Election Security Initiative

The Election Security Initiative (ESI) within the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) works closely with those on the front lines of elections – state and local governments, election officials, Federal partners, and the private sector – to manage risks to the country’s election infrastructure.  Snell plays a vital role on the team, in a chief of staff role, keeping the ESI team  managed and supported, and ensuring that deliverables are accurate and shared within CISA and to stakeholders in a timely manner.

Snell explains, “The Election Security Initiative is part of the National Risk Management Center…responsible for CISA’s election security mission and administering the sector risk management agency for the critical infrastructure designation of election infrastructure.”

While Snell’s background hasn’t always fit into her library and information science degrees from graduate school, her path at CISA began with its predecessor programs and has grown from there. As she stood up communication teams and executed on programs, she found a winding road to her current team. While not everyone within ESI has a specific background in election security, the team is filled with diverse capabilities in cyber, engineering, communications, and other relevant backgrounds coupled with a strong work ethic and natural curiosity. Snell has cultivated a team that  works together, solves problems, and develops creative and useful resources for its stakeholders. . Between in-house staff and expert consultants, ESI has shifted from a task force to an enduring mission that’s filled with passion, commitment, and a willingness to work hard as they have served multiple elections over the years.

Snell explains, “So that’s what we look for when we bring people in. It’s not necessarily, do you have elections in your background? Some of it is, ‘Do you have stakeholder engagement experience? Do you understand how systems work? Do you have an interest and a passion in just doing good work?’ And that’s how we’ve built up our team, which has just been tremendously fun.”

Behind the Scenes on the Election Security Team

The team’s work does not end on election night. Recounts, audits, and the certification process – along with primary, special, and off-year elections, result in a continuous election cycle.  ESI provides trainings and products, and helps facilitate cyber and physical protection services and exercises to stakeholders.  Providing election security support to election officials and vendors has been critical to ensuring  that they have the resources internally to support their missions.

The time to prepare for a storm is before it happens, which is what CISA works on year-round, with products and communications that aim to continuously improve election security. . CISA works to bring everyone together, with regular touch points with stakeholders and the communities, and supporting events and communications. Communication is critical to bringing about positive change.

Snell explains that following the designation of election security as critical infrastructure in early 2017, there was a deficit of trust and skepticism from the election community; however, she explains, “We’ve worked really aggressively and hard to overcome that. And from a partnership model, we’ve succeeded…but there’s still more work to be done. And we recognize that and continue to plug away. You can’t accomplish that without the connections and the communication and the continued willingness to grow and learn and partner.”

Favorite Moment in Election Security

Having worked with CISA and its predecessor for more than 12 years, Snell admits that working in election security has been a career highlight for her. Building the team and the mission, and seeing the impacts based on feedback from stakeholders has given her a sense of pride.

Snell reflects on her mission and work. “I spend a lot of time behind the scenes doing the management of the team and the building of the team and the hiring of our folks and making sure that the trains run on time and deliverables are met.”

For Snell, it’s been rewarding to grow the team and consider the future of operations, with an eye on how CISA can improve processes and onboard more diverse, key talent.


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