Federal auditors are conducting a human capital study to gauge the draw, or lack thereof, of cybersecurity careers, Government Accountability Office researchers said.
Government and industry officials, as well as employment postings and university degree programs, regularly tantalize job seekers with estimates that the country needs about 30,000 information security professionals, but GAO officials said they do not yet know if there is enough interest among the U.S. population to fill the ranks.
"We know that a lot of people in the area are concerned that there aren't enough [people] between industry and all of the civilian agencies," Davi D'Agostino, GAO director for defense capabilities and management, said during a webcast seminar hosted by Nextgov's sister publication Government Executive. A report "should be coming out soon" that will examine the cyber staffing challenges confronting government agencies, she said.
Federal departments and companies have long bemoaned the insufficient numbers of U.S. citizens completing math and scientific degrees that are necessary for computer and software engineering positions, said Nelsie Alcoser, GAO senior defense analyst.
Public-private consortiums such as the U.S. Cyber Challenge have stepped in to guide aspiring cyber experts along the requisite educational paths. For example, in July, federal contractor General Dynamics, a challenge sponsor, awarded a $1,000 scholarship to Jake Bartkowiak of Maryland's Eastern Technical High School. He won a statewide online contest designed to find students with the skills for careers in networking, operating systems and system administration.
The nonprofit Air Force Association, in conjunction with contractor Northrop Grumman, hosts a similar online and in-person competition -- U.S. Cyber Patriot -- aimed at inspiring high school students to study science, technology, engineering and math.
"When we talked to, for example, the National Security Agency, they said you need people with the right degrees and then they will give them an intense training on their methods and tactics," Alcoser said. "They just need someone with the right background, the right degree and -- of course -- the initiative to learn more."