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Are cyber workforce woes actually all about the money?

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FCW's October feature on federal cybersecurity personnel -- "Is there a cybersecurity workforce crisis?" -- took a critical look at the requirements the government faces in securing essential IT networks and operations. But some readers thought it was not critical enough, particularly when it comes to the reasons why workers take government jobs rather than higher-paying private-sector roles.

An anonymous reader commented:

In order to appeal to a sense of "duty" or "country" and/or a "love of technology," the appeal has to be followed through with actual empowerment. As a contractor, I have heard this sales pitch more times than I can count, and I have never seen it realized. Also, the idea that compensation is not a primary motivator is horribly skewed. Many young cyber professionals recruited by federal agencies leave for contractors because they can be paid sometimes two to three times the federal salary for doing the exact same work, with the exact same fulfillment of "duty" and "country." If the federal agencies want to recruit and retain cyber professionals as federal employees, they are going to need to minimize bureaucracy, empower the workforce to effect change, and realign their overhead to provide compensation competitive enough for federal workers to live next door to contractors -- experience and education being equal -- in areas where the cost of living is so high (D.C. metro area is a good example).

Reader Howard Risher wrote:

I do not understand how or even why you would write a story about any aspect of the technology workforce and not focus on the closely related problem: Federal salary increases have to be competitive. It's broader than cybersecurity -- it extends to all STEM occupations.

Amber Corrin responds:

All good points. Across the board, the current and former federal officials I asked about compensation agreed that the government faces serious challenges, if not outright inabilities, in offering pay equal to the private sector. This is particularly true in an era of sequestration and budget cuts that are forcing federal managers to get creative with recruiting.

At the Defense Department, officials sang the same tune, although some also alluded to being able to move money around to try to entice cybersecurity professionals with better pay than some other government positions. Obviously, that's not a sustainable approach, but it does illustrate a borderline-frantic pursuit of professionals with the right stuff.

That's why, in the story, there was a lot of discussion about perks other than money. Appealing to that pool of talent that seeks a different kind of benefit -- a pool that studies show does exist and largely seems composed of Generation Y workers -- appears to be a strategy that government managers can more easily embrace than squeezing the proverbial blood from budgetary stones.

As for the idea that contractor work provides the "exact same fulfillment of duty and country," that might be true of the veteran feds who have endured many years of the trials and tribulations of government employment. However, I'm not so sure it is equally true of the fresh faces seeking those attributes in government work now -- those same fresh faces of which the government is in dire need.

Posted by Amber Corrin on Oct 23, 2013 at 10:32 AM


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