Commerce Secretary Highlights Cybersecurity Workforce Needs With $3B Initiative

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo speaks during a press briefing in the White House July 22.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo speaks during a press briefing in the White House July 22. Andrew Harnik/AP

Grants will be competitively awarded to state and local governmental entities, institutions of higher education, not-for-profit entities, unions and tribes. 

A new economic development initiative at the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration will address challenges companies face filling cybersecurity vacancies and other positions requiring digital skills, according to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.    

“What I hear all the time from companies [is], ‘we are ready to hire, but people need to have the skills, they need digital skills, cybersecurity skills, data skills, cloud computing skills,” Raimando said. “And so that's what we have to get at the business of.” 

Raimondo announced the initiative during a White House press briefing Thursday where she also emphasized the importance equity will play in deciding who wins access to $3 billion in funding being made available through the American Rescue Plan Act.   

“There's a skills gap, and that's why we put so much money of this $3 billion—you know, half a billion of the $3 billion—is just for skills development, apprenticeships, high-quality job training,” she said. “And by the way, we need to make sure that women and people of color and people in rural areas have those digital skills so they can get those good jobs, so that's what this is about and that's what I hear most often from companies.”

Private companies themselves will not be eligible to receive any of the funding. The money will go to state and local governments, colleges and universities, non-profits, tribes and unions whose applications lay out the best plans for achieving equity.

“This is a competitive grant process, Raimondo said. “In order to qualify to get the money you have to prove to us that equity, you'll have an equity lens, and whether it's job training that you're doing, you have to give you know have to make sure that women, people of color, veterans, people who have been left out will be included in this. It's a lens that we're going to take across the $3 billion.”

Since the start of the pandemic, U.S. officials have been saying the diversity that comes with equity is particularly important in the cybersecurity field where the skills gap is associated with a shortfall of more than 300,000 workers across the country.   

During an event hosted by the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike on Wednesday, Federal Chief Information Security Officer Chris DeRusha said the federal government is also trying to lead by example in improving its cybersecurity workforce, including by adjusting to new remote-work conditions. 

“We need to build a bench so that we're not always relying on the same few people, which happens all too often, to get us through these [cybersecurity] events,” he said, referring to attacks that tend to happen over long holiday weekends.

DeRusha acknowledged the stress cybersecurity workers experience across the board but made an appeal based on the public service aspect of the job.

“It's just more and more important than to continue our upskilling and reskilling efforts,” he said. “We've got lots of great talent in the federal government and we just want to make sure that we're energizing people to get into this exciting field. I mentioned some of the harder parts of it, people working long hours, but there's also a lot of exciting parts to this field. We are solving our generation’s national security problems and challenges related to that, and determining, together, how to do that.”