Mandate for IT training
President Clinton's plan to help protect the national computer network from
attack focuses rightly on the key means of defense: the creation of the
Federal Cyber Services, a corps of highly skilled and mostly youthful workers
trained in the technology, management and policies of information assurance.
Without the right people — and many of them — no amount of intrusion
detection gear is going to maintain the information privacy of the Republic.
Of course, the federal government is a high-tech labor sieve. Ironically,
in the weeks leading up to the announcement, no less than a half-dozen senior
federal information technology managers announced they were leaving public
service, some for dot-com Valhallas.
To address this problem, the plan calls for spending $25 million on
a slew of programs, including high school IT conferences, curriculums and
even summer camps for teenagers, to begin the job of selling the benefits
of a federal career in the information security arena.
Such measures, particularly those directed toward young people, will
be vital to the plan's success. The commercial sector will nearly always
win the competition for jobs, especially in the computer industry.
Perhaps the time has come for government to spend less time worrying
about staunching the exit of IT workers and more time training young people
to replace them.
Training a new generation of workers for the Federal Cyber Services
is a step in the right direction. For those workers, passing muster at such
programs could become a gateway to expertise and economic opportunity in
the private sector. If so, federal agencies would rarely lack new IT workers.
In the end, government could act as a permanent training academy for
government IT workers. That would certainly be a worthwhile investment.