Painful hiring keeps tech talent at bay (but does money matter?)

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Highly skilled cyber pros aren’t staying away from government work because of low pay; they’re staying away because the federal hiring process is all too often a soul-sucking mess.

That’s the insight from trade association (ISC)2’s new survey of global cyber professionals.

Hiring timelines – for jobs the private sector might fill in days or weeks – can stretch to months or a full year as applicants wrestle with Byzantine rules.

The survey, which included nearly 2,000 federal government employees among the 14,000 total respondents, revealed low marks for the feds from cybersecurity professionals.

Seventy percent of respondents said the U.S. government’s cybersecurity was suffering from a lack of qualified professionals, and only 27 percent said government security was improving.

“What we’re seeing here is just a widening gap, really, between supply and demand of the current cybersecurity workforce,” Dan Waddell, (ISC)2 director of government affairs, told FCW – and it’s a gap that gets wider every year.

According to (ISC)2, the public-private pay gap wasn’t that large: the average salary of a federal cybersecurity worker was $110,500 in 2014, compared with $114,000 for federal contractors.

Private sector salaries were slated to average $118,000 in 2015.

But averages tell only part of the story – salary caps play a role in dissuading the very best from federal service.

A public official who works with IT hiring, who asked not to be named, told FCW that a race to pay competitive wages has pushed pay up against the federal ceiling.

“I think we have [a] challenge that too many people are being paid as a GS-13, GS-14, or GS-15 that should not be and that's because people have been promoted too quickly to compensate for the low pay,” the official said. “A GS-15 should have all the skills to solve problems on their own without any direct supervision [but] I've met several GS-15 promoted too early that can't do this.”

Can flexibility solve the problem, or is even higher pay the answer?

“I don't expect public service will ever make as much as the private sector,” the official said. “That said, we should take a hard look at comparative rates of pay for non-profit roles and see what the difference is.”

The official pointed to Christopher Darby, CEO of CIA-funded non-profit In-Q-Tel, who makes more than $1 million annually.

“That's extreme,” the official said. “[I] don't think government senior executives should get that much. However, when they're capped at $181,000 and a non-profit CEO funded by taxpayer dollars is getting $1.6 million, you have to ask how can we hope to retain talent long term.”

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.


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