US government set to miss cybersecurity talent hiring target

By on 01/09/2022 | Updated on 01/09/2022
The DHS official seal
DHS is likely to miss its goal of hitting 150 job offers by the end of the fiscal year.

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is struggling to recruit cybersecurity specialists despite offering higher pay and a streamlined application process as part of new a system designed to hire new talent more quickly.

Four cybersecurity professionals have joined the agency since the Cybersecurity Talent Management System went live in November last year, 17 further candidates have accepted jobs and are being vetted and an unspecified number of others have received offers, according to internal documents dated 12 August. This suggests the department will miss its target to hit 150 job offers by the end of September.

The new system is geared towards candidates’ aptitude, rather than their credentials, in a bid to modernise the federal hiring process.

According to the department, one of the reasons that recruitment has been slow is that the majority of those applying are seeking entry-level cybersecurity roles, of which there are 75, and not the remaining half of vacancies.

Read more: US agencies fall short on cyber risk management, GAO report finds

Angie Bailey, a former chief human capital officer at DHS, told Government Executive (GovExec) that the agency’s slow progress was to be expected, given its ambitious new recruitment model. “You cannot do something this major and not expect kinks,” she said, adding that challenges would need to be overcome in “working through all of the nuances and all of the differences” of a new personnel system.

A DHS spokesperson said the agency “anticipates additional hires over the next few months”.

Cybersecurity drive

In May of last year, president Joe Biden signed an executive order designed to beef up cybersecurity in the US, which included a range of measures to improve national protections. This came after several attacks by hackers who targeted weaknesses in private sector providers of essential services.

Earlier this year, the administration passed the State and Local Government Cybersecurity Act, the aim of which is to improve cooperation and coordination on cybersecurity between the different levels of the US government. Under this law, DHS is required to provide training for state and local agencies on appropriate cybersecurity measures, areas including threats, and advice on how to respond to incidents.

The hiring of cybersecurity specialists is proving difficult in both the public and private sector. According to Mark Montgomery, former executive director of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission and CSC 2.0, investing time and money in policy and technology would not solve what he told GovExec was the government’s “people problem”.

Read more: Biden signs executive order to beef up cybersecurity in US

Montgomery warned that the government could not afford to “throw money like a drunken sailor at technology” nor “spend countless hours writing new policy and processes”, without addressing its talent gap.

Kiran Ahuja, director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and Jason Miller, OPM’s deputy director for management, recently told lawmakers they wanted to work with congress on a governmentwide cyber workforce plan, which would allow other agencies similar hiring flexibility to the DHS and the US defence department.

Miller said federal agencies that use “different authorities and different approaches to similar types of jobs and similar types of skills” risked creating incoherence that “harms the federal government overall and makes us less competitive in the labour market”.

Read more: US federal hiring: ‘Focus on what candidates know, not where they learned’

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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