Labor Group Highlights Conflict of Interest Issues in Cyber Workforce Legislation

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The federal workers union wrote to senators opposing an amendment to the NDAA that would establish a civilian reserve at CISA.

The American Federation of Government Employees suggested would-be temporary appointees at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency should be required to publicly disclose any potential conflicts of interest before they’re brought in to help respond to cybersecurity incidents, as proposed in an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.  

Amendment 6270—proposed by Sens. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.—would allow the CISA director to establish a pilot project whereby former government employees, or reservists, can bypass a competitive hiring process when responding to significant cybersecurity incidents with the government. The director’s appointees would be treated as federal employees for periods of 180 days at a time. 

“The duration of the reserve assignments, particularly if they are predominantly less than a few months, are insufficient to provide any meaningful benefit to the government and are of more benefit to the so-called ‘reservist’ and their private-sector employer, who are gaining access to governmental programs by the ‘reservist’s’ participation,” the union wrote in an Oct. 12 letter.

This is not the first time the AFGE has opposed this particular cyber workforce initiative. Last fall, during consideration of the annual defense authorization bill in the House, the group said a quickly revolving door of individuals would aid private-sector entities seeking a competitive advantage, while disrupting the work of full-time government employees. The group withdrew its opposition to the legislation—which was then in the form of an NDAA amendment proposed by Reps. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., and Ken Calvert, R-Calif.–after it was revised to require the reservists file financial disclosures with the Office of Government Ethics.   

Panetta and Calvert attached their legislation to this year’s House-passed NDAA. And in addition to opposing the Senate proposal, which excludes such reporting requirements, AFGE has now advised Congress to completely reconsider the idea.

“This bill punts on the ethical conflict-of-interest reporting concerns, where at least the corresponding House version minimally addresses this issue by requiring private sector ‘reservists’ to be appointed as ‘special government employees,’ who have disclosure requirements,” the union wrote. “However, it is our view that non-public disclosure requirements are insufficient to ensure full compliance. Before proceeding with this ill-defined concept, Congress should consider defining the actual scope and cost of these requirements.”

John Anderson, AFGE's lobbyist on defense issues, told Nextgov the merits of the current disclosure provisions in the House NDAA are limited as—without access by the media and other members of the public—accountability must rely on self-policing. “The big bottom line is that [the proposal] is still all very conceptual and not ready for primetime,” he said.