GAO report urges better planning, coordination of cyber workforces

An audit from the General Accountability Office has found that the eight agencies with the biggest IT budgets have trouble handling their cybersecurity workforces and determining their composition and responsibilities.

The federal government has undertaken several initiatives to man the cyber frontlines to protect public sector systems and networks. But despite comprehensive efforts governmentwide, GAO found that all the examined agencies failed to adequately coordinate, plan and evaluate these efforts to enhance the cybersecurity workforce.

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Cyber training no longer basic for the military

In additional to the strategic challenges, the audit found that agencies face obstacles with hiring highly technical professionals. In 2010, the Defense Department had more than 97,000 information assurance positions but about 9,000 of these positions were unfilled. At the Treasury Department, contractors are used to fill the gaps for those hard-to-fill cybersecurity positions. The departments of Commerce and Homeland Security said that while finding skilled cybersecurity staff for most positions was not an issue, certain specialized skills are still in short supply. 

GAO also found that cybersecurity training and development opportunities varied significantly among the agencies. For example,  Commerce and DOD required cybersecurity personnel to get certifications and meet continuing education requirements. Other agencies had a more lax approach.  

Agencies also had difficulty in identifying the size of the cybersecurity workforce. GAO noted the issue could be partly due to the challenge of defining a cybersecurity worker. The lack of specific federal occupational series that identifies federal cybersecurity positions, and the fact that many employees perform cybersecurity responsibilities as an additional duty also make it hard to classify a cybersecurity professional.

The departments included in GAO’s audit were: DOD, DHS, Health and Human Services, Treasury, Veterans Affairs, Commerce, Transportation and Justice.


About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

Cyber. Covered.

Government Cyber Insider tracks the technologies, policies, threats and emerging solutions that shape the cybersecurity landscape.


Reader comments

Mon, Dec 5, 2011 Gerry Virginia

Or biggest issue continues to be that there is no series that identifies the Cyber warrior. Right now there are several GS Series that could covver a position but how can we hope to fight the cyber war if we can't even identify the warrior. Another problem is that all too often, Cyber is assigned as a collateral duty and performd at the lowest level ... without requisite training. We are poised for failure!

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 KenF ( Sacramento, CA

The DOD training program (Specialty Producing Coursework) for information systems is fairly rudimentary and fails to position these personnel for any real success. As a matter of fact, the DoD has relaxed their post-education proficiency standards (in regards to industry certifications) due to a lack of funding. Compounding the DOD challenge further is the absence of a program to incentivize personnel once trained to stay, thus creating a revolving door of expertise. It would be far less expensive in the long run to extend the training to provide ample time for certification and Specialization (Network Admin vs Network Security), provide a combination of extended education opportunities (civilian education and industry training), and some sort of compensation pay (monthly incentive based on retention of validated levels of competency). Until this occurs, there will be a rotating door of competent IT security professionals leaving the DOD for the contractor sector, which pay better and cost the DOD 2.5x the cost of the original employee.

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