DOD's Cyber Lessons for OPM

OPM Director Beth Cobert

OPM Director Beth Cobert Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Acting Director Beth Cobert says OPM is trying to create widely accepted credentials for cyber skills.

Federal “cyberwarriors” and “cyber defenders” might soon get formal credentials that communicate their specific expertise, Office of Personnel Management Acting Director Beth Cobert said earlier this week.

“When someone says they are a Navy Seal or Army Ranger, we immediately know that means they have special advanced skills; that they are at the top of their game,” Cobert said in prepared remarks at the DIA Intelligence Information Systems Conference in Atlanta on Tuesday. OPM is working on designations to give federal cyber professionals the same kind of recognition, “[s]o when someone says they are a cyber defender, cyberwarrior, or cyber investigator, their level of expertise will be instantly understood and recognized.”

Cobert, who described how her organization has worked with the Pentagon in the aftermath of a major intrusion into federal background check records, said OPM is trying to collaborate more with other agencies on cybersecurity programs and also revamping the way cyber professionals are recruited.

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After working with the National Security Agency and the Pentagon to “better defend ourselves,” OPM regularly consults with staff from both agencies, Cobert said.

Cobert’s staff has been collaborating with DOD’s chief information officer and the Defense Information Systems Agency to create the backbone of the National Background Investigations Bureau, the nascent team that would handle government background investigations. OPM plans to handle the actual background investigation process in-house, but the Pentagon is responsible for "designing, building, securing and operating the IT systems,” she said.

OPM is also refining hiring policies that would make it easier for cyber talent to move in and out of the government. The agency is working with DOD on an “excepted hire” program called the “Cyber Civilian Hire Service,” which would let professionals move between government jobs without having to go through a competitive process.

“The days when someone chose between a lifelong career in government or the private sector are by and large gone,” she said in prepared remarks. “So are the days when someone went to work for one company or agency and stayed there for decades, particularly among the next generation of workers."