Much-hyped Effort to Help DHS Land Cyber Talent is Slow to Make Hires

Cybersecurity workers at a private sector security operations center in Broomfield, Colo.

Cybersecurity workers at a private sector security operations center in Broomfield, Colo. Helen H. Richardson/ The Denver Post via Getty Images

So far about four hires have been made under the Cybersecurity Talent Management System, with the agency hoping to make offers to 150 new cyber specialists by the end of September.

The Department of Homeland Security has made very little progress in onboarding cybersecurity specialists under a new talent acquisition system designed to speed hiring. Despite higher pay, streamlined applications and a focus on aptitude over credentials, the Cybersecurity Talent Management System has yielded just four new employees since going live in November 2021, according to internal DHS documents obtained by FCW.

These first hires are going to work in the DHS Office of the CIO and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. 

There are other candidates in the CTMS pipeline, according to an internal DHS document dated Aug. 12. There are 17 individuals who have accepted jobs and are undergoing necessary background checks and a few others who have offers pending or are waiting on start dates. However, it appears from this data that DHS is unlikely to hit the goal of making offers to 150 candidates by the end of the fiscal year.

"DHS continues to work hard to implement this unprecedented new alternative personnel system that will modernize and transform federal hiring," a DHS spokesperson told FCW. "Cybersecurity is dynamic and always evolving, making this talent highly specialized and in high demand, both in government and the private sector. DHS anticipates additional hires over the next few months."

One issue facing the department is a mismatch between the entry-level candidates who want to join DHS and the pool of potential positions. The program has generated interest among entry-level job seekers but there are only about 75 entry-level positions available under CTMS.

Angie Bailey, former chief human capital officer at DHS who retired in late 2021, told FCW that she hasn't been surprised at the speed of CTMS hiring. 

"You cannot do something this major and not expect kinks," she said. "I think it's just working through all of the nuances and all of the differences that happen when you change over to a brand new personnel system."

Things are tough for human resources managers looking to fill cybersecurity positions – and not just in government. Currently, there are over 714,500 openings for cyber jobs nationwide, according to Cyberseek, which is backed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Despite the initial challenges in bringing on new candidates, the authorities that underpin CTMS are attracting attention from federal human resources managers, and may soon apply to cybersecurity posts across the federal government.

Last month Kiran Ahuja, director of the Office of Personnel Management, and Jason Miller, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, told lawmakers that they want to work with Congress on a government-wide cyber workforce plan that would potentially give other agencies the same flexibility as DHS and the Department of Defense, which has has its own bespoke set of hiring authorities.

"When we have different authorities and different approaches to similar types of jobs and similar types of skills in one agency over another, it creates an imbalance that harms the federal government overall and makes us less competitive in the labor market," Miller said at the time.

Mark Montgomery, former executive director of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission and CSC 2.0 executive director, told FCW that the government needs to concentrate on the cyber workforce problem as much as it focuses on technology, policy and processes.

"You can't throw money like a drunken sailor at technology, spend countless hours writing new policy and processes and not go fix the people problem," he said.