The U.S. Coast Guard stood up its first all-remote cyber auxiliary flotilla, a volunteer team based out of Fort Meade, Maryland, that will help recruit and retain cybersecurity professionals for the agency, an official said Monday.

The Coast Guard, an armed service within the Department of Homeland Security, recruits a volunteer body of more than 20,000 members that acts as a force multiplier for the entire department. In World War II, this force blossomed to respond to firefights, patrols and rescue missions, in turn freeing up active duty personnel for service overseas. Today, it supports a much more advanced task: cybersecurity.

Cyber incidents against the Marine Transportation System, a vast network of ports and marine terminals protected by the Coast Guard, went up 68% in 2021 from the year before. This system and others can be targets for malicious hackers. The new flotilla will help shore up defenses and fill a critical skill gap.

“The cyber workforce is one of the most competitive workforces out there,” Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth Miltenberger, cyber operational assessments branch chief at the USCG, said at the Government Information Technology Executive Council Conference being held this week in Annapolis, Maryland. “There are way more jobs and people, especially qualified people. And the challenge is that qualified people want full-time remote jobs, or they want to work from anywhere. They don’t all want to be within the beltway.”

While some civilian agencies can more easily offer remote work options, paramilitary operations have stricter requirements of their workforces, which are made up of cleared personnel that deal with unpredictable emergencies and clandestine information.

“If you look at my team and a lot of other Coast Guard or even [Department of Defense] cyber operational teams, those are all on-prem[ise], butts-in-seats jobs,” said Miltenberger. “Most of the time you’re behind the door of a SCIF or classified space or something like that.”

“It’s not really a field that lends itself to that,” said Wayne Jacobs, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the conference.

Still, Miltenberger said he believes cyber-related work has opportunities for such flexibilities. For the flotilla, most meetings and training will be conducted remotely.

Remote work also has potential for the department’s 8,000-large reservist force. Officials at the panel said these employees can be activated without having to leave their homes, thereby saving tremendous amounts of travel money.

In November, the Coast Guard reiterated that civilians can telework up to eight days per pay period.

“This kind of flexibility has become standard at top employers,” said Jennifer Leung, chief of the Office of Civilian Workforce Management at the Coast Guard in a statement at the time. “We want to compete for the best, and people now expect employers to offer remote work options.”

The Coast Guard Auxiliary is the largest volunteer marine safety organization in the world. It’s made up of active duty, reserve, civilian and auxiliary workers.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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