OPM clears agencies for quick infosec hires

The Office of Personnel Management this month granted to all agencies direct-hire authority for information technology specialists. This is the latest in a series of steps that have made it substantially easier for agencies to hire IT professionals.

OPM's decision, announced June 20, is effective immediately for IT managers in the GS-2210 series at grades 9 and above. The announcement is intended to expedite the hiring of IT security specialists in accordance with the federal cybersecurity strategy. The new authority will allow agencies to bypass OPM when filling vacancies.

Agencies have long been able to request direct-hire authority when experiencing staff shortages or difficulty in filling vacancies. Now, however, OPM can declare that a critical hiring need exists in an occupational group, a geographic area or governmentwide without waiting for a request.

"I am not waiting to be asked in those situations where the shortages and critical needs are well-known and a direct-hire authority can make a real difference," OPM Director Kay Coles James said when she announced the new flexibility.

She also authorized direct hiring of medical professionals governmentwide and authorized the Securities and Exchange Commission to hire certain professionals. All of the new authorizations will be good for two years.

For a number of years, agencies have found it difficult to hire and retain IT specialists. The shortage has been mitigated in recent months by downturns in the industry and other industries that employ IT workers. It is also due to special pay increases for those in the 2210 series, which covers IT management jobs.

Although hiring has become easier, "there is a critical shortage in the government of technical security people — the people who actually know how, in a hands-on fashion, to protect federal systems," said Alan Paller, research director for the SANS Institute, a training and education organization.

Paller said that because of the recession, now is a good time to hire. "To use this new authority effectively, they'll want to be looking for security-savvy system managers and security-savvy network managers," he said. "Eighteen months ago, you couldn't find them at all."

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