DOD struggles with loss of cyber personnel

The Defense Department looks to targeted recruiting and bonuses to check the loss of cyber workers as it expands the Cyber Excepted Service Personnel System.

Shutterstock image ID: 569172169 By Zenzen

The Defense Department lost thousands of civilian cyber workers in the past year, mainly in IT management and computer science-related positions, a senior defense official testified at a Sept. 26 Senate hearing.

"Most of the job losses that we've seen here over the past year or so total about 4,000 civilian cyber-related personnel," Essye Miller, DOD's principal deputy CIO, told the Senate Armed Services Committee's Personnel and Cybersecurity subcommittees. Defense officials said they would share more details on how their cyber governance and talent management plans would line up with DOD's recently released cyber strategy in closed session.

"This encompasses more than your traditional IT, intel role," Miller said at the open portion of the hearing. "It also includes some of our health occupations, criminal investigation and other occupational series that we need to keep in mind."

Miller emphasized in her written testimony that most of the losses were in IT management and computer science, but that DOD's needs spanned multiple job roles and specialties.

"We need individuals across a wide variety of cyber work roles, including software developers and secure software assessors, system administrators and network operations specialists, data analysts, systems security analysts, and system test and evaluators," Miller wrote, adding that the Cyber Mission Forces need to focus on personnel planning, coding, forensics, malware, data science, linguists and cybersecurity professionals.

Some of the loss is cyclical and expected to be replenished by "normal job turnover," Miller said. But the DOD is hoping to boost numbers with a number of proposals.

Brig. Gen. Dennis Crall, the principal deputy cyber advisor and senior military advisor for cyber policy for the defense secretary's office, testified that the department also wants to increase pay up to $86,000 on the General Schedule pay scale, as it has done with the Cyber Excepted Service.

But compensation isn't the only issue. Crall said it's also "difficult to match the speed with which they hire and onboard and start individuals and clear them for some very sensitive projects."

DOD has several proposals that it hopes to get started by the end of the year, Crall said, including offering targeted compensation packages when competition is steep or there's a dearth of talent; retention bonuses; and ways to speed up the clearance process.

DOD also is working to define its cyber workforce and expand the Cyber Excepted Service personnel system for civilian IT and cyber defense workers. Crall said DOD is moving to phase two of implementation and expects to expand the excepted service to 8,300 positions, including the Defense Information Systems Agency and service cyber components. Phase one had 363 slots and focused on U.S. Cyber Command.

"We need to understand our market better," he said. "We use too much anecdotal evidence and experience to describe what attracts people and why people leave. And while I will say most of it sounds right, market analysis is key. We gotta make sure we're dialed in and not focusing on a goal that may be a year or two old."