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Federal Government still facing cyber brain drain

Apr. 10, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By Zachary Fryer-Biggs Staff writer   |   Comments
SINET's Robert Rodriguez
SINET's Robert Rodriguez (John Todd /

WASHINGTON — The federal government is losing talent in cyber fields, and the problem is only going to get worse, according to one expert.

Robert Rodriguez, who runs the Security Innovation Network (SINET), a group designed to bridge the divide between the tech industry and federal government, said that his phone is ringing off the hook with federal experts looking to get into the private sector.

“I have people from the Pentagon, more people from the government, wanting to call me, meet with me, talk about the transition from the public to the private sector,” Rodriguez said.

Having spent two decades working for the Secret Service, Rodriguez has personal experience moving between the two sectors. But he sees an accelerating trend, a situation apt to get worse as demand for cyber experts grows and Silicon Valley firms continue to increase pay.

“You’re going to see more government people leave to go to industry because of the upside opportunities, the equity stakes that are happening,” he said. “The disparity in pay between industry and government is going to continue to increase.”

SINET, which just completed its two-day IT Security Entrepreneurs Forum April 9, “Bridging the Gap between Silicon Valley and the Beltway,” is trying to make sure that even after government experts leave, their expertise can still be tapped by federal customers. The event included government officials from the National Security Agency, Defense Department and others.

“To me, if you have a government person who goes to a startup, that’s a win-win because that government person understands the challenge and the processes better than someone strictly from industry,” Rodriguez said.

Still, the enormous cultural differences make it difficult to marry the tech world with the federal acquisition system. To that end, Rodriguez suggests a move toward accepting greater risk by government leaders.

“Look at Google and look at the Pentagon, they’re 180 degrees apart in terms of how they view risk,” he said. “Google embraces failure, embraces taking risk. I’m not saying that the Pentagon needs to move to where Google is, but it needs to move over in that direction or we’re going to continue to fall further behind.”

Trying to drive home that message is one of the fundamental purposes of the conferences SINET hosts, he said.

“One of my purposes is to evangelize. If I capture 5-10 percent of people in the room, and they go back and they embrace change, and they start looking at models differently in approaching the problem differently and thinking about it differently, than SINET has succeeded on that front.”

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