OPM speeds hiring of cyber specialists

All executive branch agencies are free to hire their own information technology professionals to bolster the security of their information systems, the Office of Personnel Management has announced.

The agency notified agency heads and chief human capital officers of the new direct-hire authority, effective immediately, for professionals in the GS-2210 series at Grade 9 and above. The announcement is intended to speed hiring of cybersecurity specialists.

Agencies have long been able to request direct-hire authority when they are experiencing staff shortages and encountering difficulty in filling vacancies. Now, however, OPM need not wait for a request but can declare that a critical hiring need exists, in an occupational group, a geographic area or governmentwide.

"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 June 20, when she announced the new flexibility.

James 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 last 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 IT industry and other industries that employ IT workers, as well as special increases in pay for those in the 2210 series, which covers IT management jobs.

However, the push for greater homeland security has increased the demand for qualified cybersecurity specialists. Congress enabled OPM to increase hiring flexibility when it enacted the Homeland Security Act of 2002.

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