Workforce

DHS considers flexible hiring paths for cyber talent

Shutterstock imag (by Benjamin Haas): cyber coded team.

As the Department of Homeland Security adapts to an increasingly tight supply of cyberdefenders and skilled IT workers, the agency is looking to make it easier for those professionals to enter, exit and return to government service.

"It's not our grandfathers' government anymore," said Angela Bailey, chief human capital officer at the DHS. She noted the trend toward a more mobile technical workforce, putting in shorter stints at individual employers.

Bailey has been at DHS for only three months and is looking at new ways the agency can recruit and employ IT workers in an increasingly tight market for technical talent. She left her chief operating officer position at the Office of Personnel Management in January.

At DHS, she's thinking about how a "passport" approach to IT jobs might allow tech and cyber workers at DHS to move among federal and commercial jobs more flexibly. That approach, she said in remarks at an April 14 AFCEA DC event, would allow DHS to approach IT and cybersecurity jobs not as a traditional, long-term hire, but as project-based, "special forces" kinds of assignments. She stressed the passport idea is just that: an idea and not a formal program at this point.

DHS is operating under a cyber hiring mandate issued in Dec. 2014 that gives the agency greater authority for hiring and paying cybersecurity professionals. The mandate also allows DHS to create an entirely new personnel and pay system for cyber workers.

That kind of hiring flexibility, DHS CIO Luke McCormack said, can be just as critical to how the agency approaches future IT projects as agile development is.  

DHS, he said, is the "gold standard" for cybersecurity training and DHS cybersecurity workers are heavily recruited by commercial industries.  Banking and finance firms in particular look to hire away agency talent.

"Banking and Wall Street are fishing" in the agency's cyberworker pool, McCormack said, because they recognize those workers have a valuable skill set. Commercial companies can "triple their salary" or provide other benefits the agency can't match. However, he said, that move might not be a bad thing, if DHS can hire them back as needed.

Thirty-year careers exclusively inside a federal agency, McCormack said, are a thing of the past in IT.

The passport idea would allow IT professionals "to circle back" to government more easily, bringing their experience in the private sector with them, McCormack said. "We actually want that," he said. "It keeps us fresh."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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