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Attention, Cyber Pros: The Pentagon Wants You -- 3,000 of You

Three military cyber professionals conduct an exercise during Cyber Flag 13-1, Nov. 8, 2012, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

Three military cyber professionals conduct an exercise during Cyber Flag 13-1, Nov. 8, 2012, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. // US Air Force

The military has been given the go-ahead to fast-track the hiring of 3,000 computer whiz civilians, in part, to flesh out the half-staffed U.S. Cyber Command, federal officials announced Thursday.

Yesterday, command leaders told Congress they need to be able to quicker make compensation deals with prospective employees, as threats from nation state hackers mount.    

The permission slip the Office of Personnel Management signed applies to the entire Defense Department, including the command, according to a notice posted in the Federal Register.

The 5-year-old command organizes cyberattacks against adversaries and network defense operations. 

The pay scale for the new Defense positions starts at $42,399 and goes up to $132,122. Under the arrangement, the Pentagon can skip the process of rating applicants based on traditional competitive criteria. Instead, the department can offer jobs based on the candidate's unique skills and knowledge. The special qualifications include the ability to analyze malware, respond to incidents, manage cyber fire drills and detect vulnerabilities, among other things. 

The agreement also allows Cyber Command, in particular, to employ various administrative personnel "when those positions require unique cybersecurity skills and knowledge," OPM officials said. 

The hiring powers sunset Dec. 31, 2015.   

The command’s target workforce size is 6,200 personnel, Adm. Mike Rogers, the force’s chief, told Congress on Wednesday. It is unclear how the new recruitment option fits into the command's buildout plans

The White House is staffing its own new cyber policymaking unit, and last week posted a job opening for an information technology specialist. The application period for that potentially $140,000 position already has closed.

On Wednesday, Lt. Gen. Edward Cardon, head of the Army Cyber Command, told House Armed Services subcommittee members that "recruiting and retaining Army civilian cyber talent is challenging given internal federal employment constraints regarding compensation and a comparatively slow hiring process.”

Recruiting, relocation and retention bonuses, along with student loan reimbursements, would help lure talent to the civilian cyber workforce, he said. 

Ironically, Cyber Command may have even more trouble attracting security specialists when financial conditions brighten.

"As the economy continues to improve, we expect to see more challenges in recruiting and retaining our cyber workforce," testified Vice Admiral Jan Tighe, the top official at the Navy Fleet Cyber Command. "We are aggressively hiring to our civilian authorizations consistent with our operational needs and fully supported by the Navy’s priority to ensure health of the cyber workforce."

The Cyber Command chief appealed to lawmakers for more appropriations, in part, to deal with the workforce shortage. "Where we need help from you is with resources required to hire personnel to fill the team seats as well as necessary operational and strategic headquarters operations, intelligence, and planning staffs," he told the House members.

As of February, the Pentagon had reached the midway point of staffing Cyber Command and was backing away from the long-held held goal of deploying a full force by 2016. 

Defense officials were unavailable to comment Thursday, because a Washington-area snow storm had closed federal offices.

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