Training new cybersleuths

President Clinton's initiative to attract students to work as federal information

security experts in exchange for tuition reimbursement is moving one step

closer to reality.

The National Science Foundation is preparing a virtual "call to arms"

for early August, when it will release a solicitation to universities for

the Federal Cyber Services scholarship program.

The Federal Cyber Services address one of the most pressing and long-term

issues for federal agencies: a lack of personnel to support the systems

and policies that underpin every aspect of information security. The program

is part of the President's National Plan for Information Systems Protection,

which encompasses a range of security-related issues within the civilian

and defense agencies.

Skilled security personnel help protect agency systems from cyberattacks.

"The reason those attacks are occurring is because we don't have the IT

security personnel," said Richard Clarke, national coordinator for security,

infrastructure protection and counterterrorism and senior director of transnational

threats at the National Security Council.

The NSF solicitation will spell out what universities are expected to

offer, such as scholarships, staff and other resources, in order to launch

the program. Interested universities will then bid on the solicitation.

The Federal Cyber Services is at its core a program to provide under-

graduate and graduate information security students with two years of tuition,

room and board in return for two years of service in a federal agency. Clinton

asked Congress for $11.2 million in fiscal 2001 for NSF to develop, manage

and fund an initial 100 scholarships.

Building up universities' capacity to train cybersleuths also is a significant

part of the program, said Harriet Taylor, computer science and mathematics

program director at NSF's division of undergraduate education. For example,

universities will need help to build and retain their own faculty to teach

the scholarship students and others.

NSF also will work with agencies to help develop a working environment that

students will enjoy once they enter the federal work force, Taylor said.

Many studies have shown that the way to keep personnel, especially in information

technology-related jobs, is to give them work they find challenging and

fun. "We don't want the students stuck in the mail room," she said.

Despite broad support for the program, NSF is waiting for Congress to approve

the funding. And several hang-ups have developed within appropriations committees,

said Mark Montgomery, director of transnational threats at the NSC. At least

$7 million is needed to start the program, and the full $11.2 million will

enable the Federal Cyber Services to truly get off the ground, he said.

Several members of the Clinton administration are concerned that Congress

may not approve any new programs, regardless of their importance. However,

while Congress may see this as a transition year with "no new starts," Clarke

said that education research and development funding requests must be the

exception.

"If this is truly the year of "no new starts,' then next year may be the

year that nothing starts and nothing works," he said.

Funding for NSF and the Federal Cyber Services is included in the appropriations

bill that covers the departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban

Development. Although the Senate appropriations subcommittee is taking a

serious look at funding for NSF and the program, subcommittee members are

not very interested in one relatively small program that's not included

in the main portion of the bill, an administration official said.

Another piece of the puzzle is an amendment by Sen. John Warner (R-Va.)

to the fiscal 2001 Defense authorization bill. Section 1042 of the bill,

the "Information Security Scholarship Program," borrows heavily from the

national plan's Federal Cyber Services concept and creates a similar $20

million initiative within the Defense Department.

"This has the potential to be a good complement to the Federal Cyber

Service we've proposed at NSF," Montgomery said. "This would bring to DOD

the same high-quality security managers, and it also raises the possibility

to increase and expand the programs at all of the universities for all of

the students."

Montgomery likes the idea of including students from across government,

but he said the administration wants to bring the DOD program in line with

the national plan so that there is a single program across government. "We

just want to tweak it a little," he said.

The DOD version does not include a provision for summer government internships,

something that is critical to getting the scholarship students to be better

acquainted with the agencies they will work for when they graduate. It also

does not include any money or wording for the faculty and program development

that NSF is including in its solicitation, Montgomery said.

"We need to make sure people understand these are separate programs

and one cannot replace the other," he said.

Featured

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.