In cybersecurity circles, the topic comes up time and time again: How do we attract and retain the best cyber professionals? The problem starts with a shortage of cyber-skilled people, and gets further complicated when it’s a government agency struggling to staff up in the face of a tug-of-war with the private sector.
Many government agencies have made significant strides through outreach programs, partnering with academic institutions, targeting younger talent and expanding internship-type programs. The problem is forcing agencies to get creative, particularly to compete with higher-paying – and easier to gain – private-sector employment.
“We know that to be successful in the fight against cyber crime, we must continue to recruit, develop, and retain a highly skilled workforce,” Joseph Demarest, assistant director of the FBI’s cyber division, told a House Homeland Security subcommittee on May 21. “To that end, we have developed a number of creative staffing programs and collaborative partnerships with private industry to ensure that over the long term we remain focused on our most vital resource, our people.”
The FBI is taking some cues from the defense and intelligence communities, according to James Trainor, deputy assistant director of the FBI’s cyber division.
“We’ve rolled out a relatively new and innovative program – some of it is tuition reimbursement for folks with cybersecurity degrees, creating our own kind of ROTC-type program where we have four-year scholarships for incoming students, similar to what NSA has,” Trainor said at an event held by 1105 Media and FireEye in Washington, DC on May 22. “Allowing existing FBI employees to go on a sabbatical with a private-sector company – this will require some legislative changes that we’re working on, and we’re trying to promote that. We also have a visiting scientist program we’ve traditionally used in the labs…we’re looking at doing that within cybersecurity, bringing in folks from academia and the private sector to do a one-year assignment within the FBI.”
Demarest’s and Trainor’s comments come as FBI Director James Comey publicly acknowledges the agency’s struggle to keep up with today’s cyber criminals, especially with the hard-and-fast hiring rules that traditionally come along with law enforcement. The problem is magnified by the recent green light from Congress to hire some 2,000 new cyber professionals this year, a feat that will have to be reconciled with, for example, the FBI’s tough policies on drug use.
“I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cybercriminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” Comey said May 20 at the White Collar Crime Institute in New York, according to the Wall Street Journal .
Trainor didn’t comment on drug-related issues in cyber hiring specifically, but he did say that the cybersecurity community should expect to see shifts in the status quo in a changing era of the workforce – especially as it results to employment in the public sector versus the private sector.
“Ultimately I think a lot of this is probably going to lead to…a little bit more of a revolving door than we’ve traditionally seen in the federal government, where people often stay for 20 or 30 years and then retire and go to the private sector, or just outright retire,” Trainor said. “I think there’ll be a little bit more transition in and out of the government space.”