DHS, NSA Award Millions to Universities for Cybersecurity Workforce Development Plans


Agencies tasked with implementing a 2017 executive order envision a national network of technical institutes. 

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of West Florida received a total of $8 million in separate grants from the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency to tackle the enduring challenge of filling public- and private-sector cybersecurity vacancies across the country. 

UIUC leads the Critical Infrastructure Resilience Institute, one of 10 DHS centers of excellence focused on addressing homeland security challenges. On Friday, the department announced the institute received $2 million to “develop a plan that [the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency] can execute to build a national network of cybersecurity technical institutes.”

A press release of the announcement cited a report the department, along with the Department of Commerce, submitted to the president in 2017 under Executive Order 13800. The report estimated the cybersecurity workforce gap measured 299,000 individuals. On Tuesday, UWF issued a press release on its award and noted a CyberSeek study that says the gap has now ballooned to over 500,000.  

The DHS press release also highlighted two other findings from the 2017 report: “The majority of U.S. critical infrastructure is owned and operated by private companies, making its cybersecurity workforce vital, [and] the federal government depends heavily on its cybersecurity workforce, supplemented by contractors.”

CIRI is a consortium of universities and other public and private entities and will work with Auburn University, Purdue University and the University of Tulsa in developing a plan, according to the DHS press release. 

“CISA sees the growing cybersecurity workforce shortage in the United States as a national security risk,” said Bryan Ware, CISA assistant director of cybersecurity. “With our government and private sector partners, CISA is striving to ‘secure tomorrow’ by preparing, growing and sustaining the nation’s cybersecurity workforce. This award to create a national network of institutes to educate and train dynamic and diverse cybersecurity professionals is part of the administration and CISA’s initiatives and efforts to begin a trend of reducing this workforce gap.”

In another effort, the University of West Florida was chosen by the National Security Agency to lead 10 institutions that qualify as National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity in a program set to launch in the spring that will be supported by a $6 million grant over the next two years. 

“The National Security Agency is excited to have the University of West Florida serve as the coalition lead for a new cybersecurity education and workforce development program,” said Diane M. Janosek, Commandant, National Security Agency’s National Cryptologic School. “Their unique program transitions veterans and first-responders into cybersecurity professionals qualified to shore up critical gaps in our nation’s critical infrastructure sectors.”

The NSA initiative looks to establish a nationally scalable certification program that will connect cybersecurity workers with employers in the financial, defense and energy sectors.  

“We will establish a scalable national cybersecurity workforce program that focuses on employability and can be scaled to include additional work roles, sectors, employers and institutions in future years,” said Dr. Eman El-Sheikh, director of the UWF Center for Cybersecurity. “Our strong and passionate coalition team aims to solve the cybersecurity workforce crisis once and for all.”