Training new cybersleuths
- By Diane Frank
- Jun 12, 2000
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
"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
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.