A career in government has never been synonymous with making lots of money. But that may be changing as the public sector faces a shortage of people with cybersecurity skills.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is launching an incentive program that pays up to 25 percent on top of someone’s current salary based on their certifications and work experience. The department is tailoring the program after one launched by the National Protection and Programs Directorate six months ago. It’ll be tested by DHS for a year and then Paul Beckman, DHS-HQ chief information security officer, hopes to renew it annually if all goes well.
Paul Beckman, Department of Homeland Security-HQ Chief Information Security Officer, sharing his insights at the Federal Cybersecurity Update 2016 Conference.
Beckman revealed the program at this month’s Federal Cybersecurity Update 2016, hosted by immixGroup, FedInsider, and the GWU Center for Excellence in Public Leadership. He, along with several other government officials, said private sector salaries, the changing cyber landscape, and an overall lack of people with the right skills are some of the biggest challenges they face in cybersecurity. It’s also generally harder to get younger people to pursue government careers.
“We’re doing our best to mentor and train folks, but once we train them, they jump ship for more money,” said Leo Wong, chief information security officer at the Federal Communications Commission, who also spoke on the panel.
The most recent median pay for an information security analyst is pushing $89,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). There’s also a huge demand for cybersecurity professionals in the private sector. More than 209,000 cybersecurity jobs in the United States are unfilled, and postings are up 74 percent over the past five years, according to a 2015 analysis of BLS numbers by Peninsula Press.
Aside from starting to offer competitive salaries, the government also needs to fix its recruiting methods, said the event panelists. It’s not uncommon for someone to apply to 100 government jobs through USAJOBS.gov and never get a reply.
Beckman says he’s starting to work more closely with local universities that have cybersecurity programs designated as Centers of Excellence by DHS and the National Security Agency (NSA).
“If I can find the top 5 percent of the best of the best, then I can have a streamlined process to give these individuals the direct hire authority,” Beckman added. “I want to make an easy avenue from university to government from the get-go.”
Dr. Diana Burley, Executive Director for the Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection at George Washington University, commenting on the need for more stringent curriculum for cybersecurity skills training at the Federal Cybersecurity Update 2016 Conference.
While these partnerships make a lot of sense, Diana Burley, executive director for the Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection at George Washington University, says there’s a supply problem on the education side. There are only 181 universities and colleges designated as NSA/DHS Centers of Academic Excellence. She adds that curriculum standards need to be developed in order to ramp up the number of people with cybersecurity skills. Another challenge is finding people to teach cybersecurity.
“We’re fortunate in the DC region that we have a number of institutions that are able to meet the demand,” she said. “But even still, we have a lack of faculty members.”
Want to hear more from the Federal Cybersecurity Update event? Click here for a video recording.
Lloyd McCoy Jr. is a Market Intelligence consultant with immixGroup. He specializes in the Defense Department and cybersecurity. Connect with him on LinkedIn