Lawmakers Propose Civilian Cyber Reserve to Bolster DOD and DHS

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The bipartisan package of two bills would address the government’s shortage of skilled cyber personnel by allowing DOD and DHS “to recruit qualified civilian cybersecurity personnel to serve in reserve capacities.”

Senate lawmakers introduced a legislative package on Tuesday to establish civilian cybersecurity reserve pilot programs within the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security to help bolster the federal government’s cyber resilience amid a national shortage of high-skilled cybersecurity personnel.

The pair of bipartisan bills—introduced by Sens. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.—would enable DOD and DHS “to recruit qualified civilian cybersecurity personnel to serve in reserve capacities to ensure the U.S. government has the talent needed to defeat, deter or respond to malicious cyber activity, especially at times of greatest need,” according to a joint press release. Participation in the reserve programs would be voluntary and “by invitation only,” and would not include members of the military Selected Reserve.

“Cybersecurity threats targeting the United States continue to grow in scale and scope, demonstrating the urgent need for robust civilian cyber reserves capable of addressing these threats and protecting our nation,” Rosen said in a statement. “Our bipartisan legislation will help ensure the U.S. government can leverage existing cybersecurity talent from the private sector to help our nation deter and swiftly respond to cyberattacks.”

The introduction of the legislative package comes as federal agencies and the private sector alike are struggling to keep pace with the growing digital threat landscape. A report released in October by a federal working group noted that there were “more than 700,000 cyber jobs to fill nationwide and nearly 40,000 in the public sector as of April 2022.” This shortage of trained cyber professionals is also a concern for DOD, which noted in a November memo that “attracting cybersecurity professionals continues to fall short of demand.”

“As the cyber domain continues to expand in size and complexity, so should our cyber workforce,” Blackburn said in a statement. “By creating a reserve corps similar to our National Guard or Army Reserve, we can ensure the U.S. has qualified, capable and service-oriented American talent that is necessary to address cyber vulnerabilities and keep our nation secure.” 

The senators noted that their legislative package is modeled after recommendations made in a March 2020 report from the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service—as well as a separate March 2020 report from the Cyberspace Solarium Commission—that proposed creating civilian cybersecurity reserve corps to enhance the government’s cyber workforce. 

Similar legislation introduced by Rosen and Blackburn passed the Senate in December, but did not receive a vote in the House before the end of the 117th Congress.