Navy official sounds alarm on cyber workforce shortage

Janice Haith, deputy CIO USN

Janice Haith, deputy CIO of the Navy, is concerned about the government's ability to retain skilled cybersecurity personnel.

The Navy is fighting a losing battle trying to keep cyber specialists in its workforce, according to Deputy CIO Janice Haith.

There is a revolving door in which the Navy trains IT professionals who then go on to lucrative jobs in the private sector, Haith said May 24 at a conference hosted by Gigamon.

The workers the Navy does retain face a tall order in securing both shipboard and land-based IT systems, she added.

"We have a workforce which is not adequately prepared to do this, and we are definitely relying on industry to help us with that," Haith said, adding that the problem is not unique to the Navy but common across government. "You may see us outsource a lot more because we don't have the skill set for that."

Officials from across the military services held a meeting on May 23 in which they discussed the shortage of civilian IT personnel based overseas, she added. The fiscal 2017 defense policy bill pending before Congress would offer some relief in terms of deployment times and more training opportunities for Navy officers, Haith said.

Pentagon officials -- including Adm. Michael Rogers, who leads U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency -- have publicly advocated for a more flexible workforce in which their IT personnel can rotate in and out of the private sector. As Haith noted, another option is to outsource more cyber services, which NSA is also exploring.

The Naval Supply Systems Command recently issued a call to contractors to train "ethical hackers" at the Navy who can probe networks for vulnerabilities. Such "red teamers" are in short supply in the Defense Department because the private sector is poaching them.

In the meantime, spending on nuts and bolts continues. Haith estimated that the Navy has spent about $700 million on cybersecurity tools since a 2013 breach, attributed to Iranian hackers, of the unclassified portion of the Navy Marine Corps Intranet.

Haith had choice words for the acquisition process. Despite some progress in getting more cyber tools into the hands of sailors, she said, "The law is hampering what we need to do, and until they change the law, we can't go as far as we need to go."

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.


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