Federal agencies to hire more cyber defenders in 2014

In an era of skyrocketing federal debt, budget deficits, legislative impasse and sequestration, all signs point to fiscal constraints in 2014. But while some agencies may see staffing reductions to cut costs, one area of federal growth is cybersecurity.

In fact, the Department of Homeland Security — charged with protecting the federal civilian “.gov” domain — can’t seem to hire quickly enough, as illustrated by some recent legislation.

The latest proposed amendment to the Homeland Security Act of 2002 would require the DHS secretary to regularly assess the readiness and capacity of the agency’s cyber workforce to meet its cybersecurity mission and develop a comprehensive strategy to enhance readiness, capacity, training, recruitment and retention of the cyber workforce, including a five-year recruitment plan and 10-year projection of workforce needs.

By contrast, the Pentagon seems to be having more success staffing the U.S. Cyber Command and uniformed services cyber commands, primarily because they can commandeer uniformed personnel.

The Army is building a new cyber command center at Fort Meade to eventually house 1,500, leading a worldwide cyber corps of 21,000 soldiers and civilians. By 2017, the Air Force will add more than 1,000 uniformed cyber forces to its 6,000 experts now working at the Air Force Space Command.

The Navy had 800 cybersecurity staffers in 2013 and will reach nearly 1,000 by 2017, working toward a mix of 80 percent uniformed personnel and 20 percent civilian employees and contractors. The Marines currently have 300 uniformed personnel, civilians and contractors at work, and plan to increase that number to just under 1,000 by 2017.

The Department of Homeland Security’s challenges in recruiting and retaining cybersecurity personnel are not breaking news. Even with multiple agency efforts to improve recruitment and retention, the Government Accountability Office reported this year that over 20 percent of the cybersecurity positions are vacant at the National Protection and Programs Directorate, the primary DHS cyber-division.

Agencies beyond DHS have also continued to supplement their internal workforces with contracted personnel.

Office of Management and Budget reports show that up to 90 percent of federal IT security spending is on personnel costs, so beefing up the cyber ranks will add costs.

However, given the demand for an improved national cybersecurity posture, cyber spending will likely continue to buck the belt-tightening trend.

John Slye is an advisory research analyst in federal industry analysis at Herndon-based Deltek, which conducts research on the government contracting market and can be found at www.deltek.com.

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