Cyber Workforce Exec Order: Right Question, Wrong AnswerMay 17 2019
The recent Executive Order on America’s Cybersecurity Workforce is intended to bolster public sector cybersecurity talent and improve our ability to hire, train, and retain a skilled workforce. Unfortunately, it ignores the real challenges we face in securing our public infrastructure: high turnover, outdated models, and an excess of administrative processes. Instead, the EO focuses on a series of relatively superficial initiatives seemingly designed to get people more excited about cybersecurity. These include:
• A cybersecurity rotational program
• A common skill set lexicon/taxonomy based on the NICE framework
• An annual cybersecurity competition with financial and other rewards for civilian and military participants
• An annual cyber education award presented to elementary and secondary school educators
• A skills test to evaluate cyber aptitude in the public sector workforce
While it’s great to see the continued focus on addressing our substantial national cyber challenges, this Executive Order is an attempt to address a severe talent shortage by shuffling resources, adding administrative process, and creating a competition and incentive system that will do little to grow and mature the cyber labor force.
It is time to accept that we won’t be able to fill hundreds of thousands of job openings any time in the foreseeable future. By taking some tough, but necessary, steps to transform the way our workforce does its job every day, we can begin to address our collective challenges and position the cybersecurity workforce for sustainable success. These steps should include:
Reducing bureaucracy: The answer is not to add administrative overhead to an already understaffed workforce through more classifications, testing, competitions, and standards.
Rethinking our assumptions: We need to revisit staffing models and procurements that require large numbers of people, because “that is how we have always done things.” Instead, we must focus on getting more efficiencies and capability out of the teams that exist today, by implementing new performance measures, focused on the achievement of end goals and not technology justification. In addition, we need to transition from task-based hiring to roles focused on current problem sets.
Focusing on automation: Our staffing requirements are growing to a level that are, and will continue to be, impossible to meet. If we’re going to encourage competition and innovation, we should focus on ways to augment the people we already have in our workforce to make them more productive through automation versus only automating basic tasks.
Improving engagement and retention: We need to ask some tough questions about why cyber retention in the federal government is so low. One answer is that operators are too bogged down with administrative processes, arduous clearance requirements, and compliance-driven activities that result in extremely low job satisfaction. Cyber competitions can be great fun, but our public sector resources are much better spent making the daily jobs of our workforce just as rewarding and engaging.
The cyber talent gap is a real problem, caused in large part by conditions we ourselves have created. The solution is to revisit the way our workforce does its job on a daily basis to better empower our workers. Fortunately, it’s possible to do that using current investments in people and technology. Building and sustaining our national cybersecurity workforce is a big challenge. We must think equally big if we’re going to meet that challenge head on.
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Ryan’s experience spans over 20 years, having secured systems at US Attorneys’ offices across the country, the Transportation Security Administration and throughout the private sector. Most recently, he served as Chief Operating Officer of Foreground Security. He is currently … View Full Bio