DHS stands up new excepted service for cyber talent

The new human resources system, which is launching seven years after legislation authorizing special pay for cybersecurity specialists, is a complete move away from traditional federal HR practices, the agency said.

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The Department of Homeland is launching a new excepted service for cybersecurity talent, according to a new rule scheduled to publish on Thursday. The agency says it'll help it adapt to growing cyber threats and a tight labor market for cybersecurity professionals.

The long-awaited move puts into place the Cybersecurity Talent Management System (CTMS), a new hiring and compensation system authorized by 2014 legislation, into effect.

Under the new system, DHS can recruit and pay employees based on their cybersecurity skills and the importance of their role to the overall cybersecurity mission. Pay is set with an upper bound of $255,800 – the current vice presidential salary – but that can be escalated under "limited circumstances."

"CTMS represents a shift from traditional practices used to hire, compensate, and develop federal civil service employees and is designed to adapt to changes in cybersecurity work, the cybersecurity talent market, and the Department's cybersecurity mission," the interim final rule says.

The rule goes into effect on Nov. 15, 2021, and will be open for public comment until Dec. 31, 2021.

The new service, known as the DHS Cybersecurity Service (DHS-CS), is envisioned as "a new cadre within the broader DHS cybersecurity workforce supporting execution of the DHS cybersecurity mission," the document says. This new group "is not intended to replace the DHS civilian employees and the United States Coast Guard Military personnel currently performing work relating to cybersecurity."

Anyone in the new cadre will be hired into the excepted service and compensated under CTMS. Current feds in cyber roles at DHS won't be placed into the new cadre automatically. Anyone interested in the new classification will have to apply for an open position.

The first hires into the new cadre will work in the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and DHS Office of the CIO, according to the rule.

The rule states that "DHS will operate CTMS in work units consistent with its rights and obligations under the Federal Service Labor Management Relations Statute. As to whether or not feds in the new personnel system will be able to collectively bargain, Jeff Neal, a former top human resources officer at multiple federal agencies, told FCW that "unless they decide that certain positions are exempted for national security reasons, the language indicates Chapter 71 [the Labor Relations statute] applies and the employees can organize."