The Biden administration is rolling out voluntary six-month and one-year rotations for the federal government’s tech workforce to boost employee job satisfaction and share talent between agencies hungering for experts in IT and cybersecurity.

The program will allow federal agencies to “borrow” employees who specialize in cyber and allow them to work in temporary stints in other departments of the government.

Such rotational opportunities align with the White House National Cybersecurity Strategy “to strengthen the federal cyber workforce by developing and retaining talent,” said Kiran Ahuja, director of the Office of Personnel Management, in a memo accompanying the release of the plan last week. “Cyber rotations help advance career opportunities and support employee engagement, satisfaction and retention.”

The ability of the federal government’s workforce to ward off increasingly complicated cyber threats at home and abroad is hampered by large gaps in pay between the private sector and the rigidity of bureaucracy in the hiring process and in creating flexible workplaces, experts have said.

Nearly two thirds of the federal IT workforce is over 40 years of age, according to a 2020 report by the federal CIO Council, and with agency-hopping displacing the workforce as it is, agencies are finding ways to “work smarter” by enhancing existing jobs and streamlining hiring.

In June 2022, President Joe Biden signed the “Federal Rotational Cyber Workforce Program Act” into law, which authorized OPM to lay out a plan for rotational tours of duty in the civil service. Lawmakers supporting the legislation said at the time that the government must boost its “valuable opportunities to serve the country and defend cyber front lines.”

The government has been using temporary assignments to create opportunities for employees to network across agencies and build skills on a variety of tools.

There are currently 76 such details available on USAJobs’ “open opportunities” page advertising stints for a data scientist position for NOAA’s uncrewed systems or a writer for the U.S. Census Bureau. OPM will be providing training on this particular application portal since it is specifically designed for federal rotations or learning assignments, with more to come under this new program.

Who is eligible?

To be eligible, employees must have received at least a “fully successful” review on their most recent performance appraisal, and they must have a security clearance for the level required by the detail. Participation then hinges on the approval by the head of the agency and the employee’s supervisor.

Employees interested can apply for a detail at the same, lower or higher grade level than what they are currently assigned.

After an employee completes a rotation, they can return to their previous position at their home agency without being at risk of losing pay, seniority or other benefits they already accrued. That’s because the detail does not change the employee’s original employment conditions and because the home agency will continue to pay the participant’s annual salary and benefits.

The workweek and hours of duty would be generally set by the host agency and would allow for telework and flextime as applicable.

The Federal Rotational Cyber Workforce Program is slated to run through June 2027 unless extended.

Government-wide, the open period will begin in November each year, though agencies can announce rotations at any time of the year to allow for maximum flexibility when responding to certain project needs, according to the program memo.

In the fall, agencies are scheduled to begin uploading rotation advertisements to USAJobs.

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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