Cyberspace Solarium Commission Details Framework to Grow a Stronger Federal Cyber Workforce

Sep 8, 2020 Issues: Cybersecurity, Economy and Jobs

WASHINGTON - The Cyberspace Solarium Commission (CSC) released a new white paper, “Growing a Stronger Federal Cyber Workforce” at a virtual event sponsored by Dakota State University (DSU). The U.S. Government currently suffers from a significant shortage in its cyber workforce with more than one in three jobs left open. Filling these roles has been a persistent and intractable problem over the past decade. To address this shortfall, the Commission white paper calls for a strategy to enable coordinated action and sustained investment in the federal cyber workforce.

CSC co-chairs Senator Angus King (I-ME) and Representative Mike Gallagher (R-WI) said in the executive summary of the report: “Without talented cyber professionals working the keyboard, all the cutting-edge technology in the world cannot protect the United States in cyberspace. If we do not take action now to ensure that our talented and experienced workforce continues to grow, we are leaving our country vulnerable to future cyber attacks.”

“We need to focus on growing cyber talent among those in the earliest stages of their K-12 schooling, but we also need mentors--diverse mentors--who allow our young people to envision a fulfilling career for themselves in the cyber workforce,” said CSC Commissioner Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) during the event. In discussing federal cyber hiring, he went on to say, “We can’t post an entry-level cyber job and expect individuals applying to have three years of experience.”

"The Federal cyber workforce is not independent of the national workforce; they share a common problem--it is literally the same problem,” said CSC Commissioner John C. “Chris” Inglis as part of the panel discussion. He continued saying the Commission recognized that: “…[T]he federal workforce cannot just figure out how we get a bigger slice of a fixed-size pie of national cyber talent. We need to build a bigger pie.”

“Across the federal government, dedicated professionals are working on a range of separate initiatives designed to build the federal cyber workforce. But to really gain traction as a whole, those individual efforts need a coherent federal strategy, leadership, and sustained investment,” said CSC Senior Director Laura Bate.

The Commission’s report details five elements to guide development of a federal cyber workforce strategy, and recommendations that address each element:

  1. Organize - Federal departments and agencies must have flexible tools for organizing and managing their workforce that can adapt to each organization’s individual mission while also providing coherence across the entirety of the federal government. To appropriately organize the federal cyber workforce, the CSC recommends properly identifying and utilizing cyber-specific occupational classifications to allow more tailored workforce policies, building a federal cyber service to provide clear and agile hiring authorities and other personnel management tools, and establishing coordination structures to provide clear leadership for federal workforce development efforts.
  2. Recruit - Federal leaders must focus on the programs that make public service an attractive prospect to talented individuals. In many ways, the federal government’s greatest tool for recruitment is the mission and unique learning opportunities inherent in federal work. To capitalize on these advantages, the government should invest in existing programs such as CyberCorps®: Scholarship for Service and the Centers of Academic Excellence while also working to mitigate recruitment barriers that stem from the personnel security clearance process.
  3. Develop - The federal government, like all cyber employers, cannot expect every new employee to have hands-on experience, a four-year degree, and a list of industry certifications. Rather, the federal government will be stronger if it draws from a broad array of educational backgrounds and creates opportunities for employees to gain knowledge and experience as they work. This effort will call for many innovative approaches, among which the Commission particularly recommends apprenticeship programs and upskilling opportunities to support cyber employee development.
  4. Retain - Federal leaders should take a nuanced view of retention, recognizing that enabling talent to move flexibly between the public and private sectors enables a stronger cyber workforce overall. However, federal employers can take steps to encourage their employees to increase the time they spend in public service. Improving pay flexibility is a major consideration, but continuing the development of career pathways and providing interesting career development opportunities like rotational and exchange programs also can be critical. Of particular note, federal employers can increase retention of underrepresented groups through the removal of inequities and barriers to advancement in the workplace.
  5. Stimulate Growth - The federal government cannot simply recruit a larger share of the existing national talent pool. Rather, leaders must take steps to grow the talent pool itself in order to increase the numbers of those available for federal jobs. To promote growth of the talent pool nationwide, the federal government must first coordinate government efforts working toward this goal. Executive branch and congressional leaders should also invest in measures to promote diversity across the national workforce and incentivize research to provide a greater empirical understanding of cyber workforce dynamics. Finally, federal leaders must work to increase the military cyber workforce, which has a significant impact on the national cyber workforce because it serves as both a source and an employer of cyber talent.

The Commission’s white paper highlights the critical importance of growing the cyber talent pool nationwide, while noting that one of the most effective ways the federal government can support this growth is to lead by example. With a cohesive strategy, effective leadership, and sustained investment, the federal government can be a leader in cyber workforce development while also driving toward a stronger cyber workforce nationwide.

CSC Commissioners Congressman Jim Langevin and Chris Inglis appeared on the Dakota State University panel along with DSU’s President Dr. José-Marie Griffiths, Dean of DSU’s Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences Dr. Pat Engebretson, and National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence Commissioner Eric Schmidt.

The Commission’s white paper can be found here.

Congress established the Cyberspace Solarium Commission in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, and it officially launched in April 2019. The Commissioners convened nearly every Monday that Congress was in session for a year, and its staff conducted more than 400 engagements, drawing upon the expertise of corporate leaders, federal, state and local officials, academics, and cybersecurity experts. The meetings and the ensuing report sought to understand America’s posture in cyberspace and identify opportunities to improve our national preparedness to defend ourselves against cyberattacks.

The CSC was established in the spirit of the original Project Solarium convened by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953. The original Solarium was created to develop a consensus strategy to counter the Soviet Union as it was threatening the United States and its allies in the early days of the Cold War. This work contributed to the strategies that guided the United States through the Cold War ending with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The newest iteration of the Solarium seeks to create a path forward that will guide the United States as it defends itself in this new domain.