DHS authorized to hire up to 1,000 cybersecurity specialists

The department doesn't expect to hire that many, but the authorization will streamline recruitment efforts, said a department official.

The Obama administration gave the Homeland Security Department this week the ability to hire up to 1,000 cybersecurity specialists, with some new security workers already having been brought on board, said DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano during a keynote discussion Thursday.

DHS worked with the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget for the authorization to hire the information security workers during the next three years to analyze risks to computer networks, determine how to respond to cyberattacks, detect security holes in systems, investigate attacks, and manage network and system engineering.

The jobs include new hires as well as moving existing staff to new positions and to currently vacant positions. Funding will come from existing DHS budgets. Any additional money needed to fund the positions will require authorization from Congress, a DHS spokeswoman said.

The department will hire the specialists to strengthen the security of federal civilian networks and to support the Secret Service to combat cyber crime and the department's 23 component agencies to improve enterprise security requirements, Napolitano said during a panel discussion hosted by DHS and the National Cyber Security Alliance to kick off National Cyber Security Awareness Month. "[This will] build upon an already solid base of expertise, [and] allow us to be competitive, at the lead and at the cutting edge," she said.

DHS' National Cybersecurity Division has between 115 and 120 cybersecurity engineers, developers and analysts, said Phil Reitinger, deputy undersecretary for DHS' National Protection and Programs Directorate, who joined Napolitano on the panel. The division has hired a few workers, some as recently as this week, and by the end of 2010 DHS expects to increase the division's cybersecurity workforce to 260. He couldn't provide an estimate for the number of people employed in cybersecurity positions departmentwide.

According to a press announcement, DHS does not expect to reach the cap for new hires, but Reitinger said the authorization will help recruitment efforts.

"Granted authority makes us more agile to bring [people] on more quickly," he said. Reitinger has said human capital was among the biggest priorities to bolster cybersecurity for the department.