Although most mission critical occupations within the Department of Homeland Security have boasted low vacancy rates over the last few years, roughly one in five positions within the DHS cybersecurity office are currently vacant, a Government Accountability Office report released this week found.
According to the report, the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications has struggled to fill its cybersecurity roles because of long security clearance timelines, strong private sector salary competition and an inability to clearly define exactly what each job entails.
As GAO notes, these are not new issues: “We have previously reported on a number of these and other related challenges in the federal cybersecurity workforce.”
The National Protection and Programs Directorate — which houses the cybersecurity office — even struggled to provide accurate cybersecurity workforce data to GAO because of the amorphous definition of “cybersecurity worker.”
To ameliorate the dearth of workers, NPPD has worked to establish relationships with the “academic centers of excellence” designated by the National Security Agency. Recently, NSA doubled the number of “centers of excellence” to eight total colleges and universities. NPPD envisions this two-year-old program — called the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations Program — as a “pipeline of qualified candidates to hire,” according to the GAO report.
NPPD has also instituted direct hire authority — a process meant to bypass some of the typical government hiring bureaucracy — for some cybersecurity positions and is working to “better define and strengthen the required skill set for DHS cybersecurity personnel,” the GAO report reads.