OPM launches cyber rotational program for feds

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The new rotational program is an outgrowth of 2022 legislation backed by Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Cybersecurity employees in the federal government can now apply to go on details at other agencies via a new listing of open opportunities published by the Office of Personnel Management.

The government’s HR shop has listed 53 postings representing 65 rotation opportunities across 12 participating agencies as of Dec. 4, and more may be added on an ongoing basis moving forward, Jason Barke, OPM's deputy associate director for strategic workforce planning, told Nextgov/FCW.

The new Federal Rotational Cyber Workforce Program stems from a 2022 law backed by Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who said in a comment at the time of its passage that the program was needed to “provide federal cybersecurity professionals with additional opportunities to learn how to defend networks from complicated and evolving threats.” 

Cyber feds can look at OPM’s Open Opportunities platform to find openings, apply and go on six-month to year-long details if accepted.

Those interested will have to already be in a cyber-coded federal job to apply and get the green light from their home agency. They’ll also need the right level of security clearance for the detail they’re applying to.

The hope is that the new rotational program will help add to and sharpen feds’ skills, benefitting agencies in the process, something that’s especially important in a dynamic and evolving field, said Barke. 

He added that the new program is the latest in an ongoing push at OPM and across the administration to shore up the government’s cybersecurity workforce. 

The White House’s Office of the National Cyber Director issued a cyber workforce strategy in July. It includes a section on the federal government in particular, which is competing for talent in a tight market where there are only 72 workers for every 100 cybersecurity jobs nationwide, according to government data released in October. Then there’s the salary gaps between the public and private sectors, long timelines for government hiring and security clearance processes and other federal-specific challenges that add to the cyber talent crunch.

OPM has already launched a cyber career page for job seekers and hiring managers and a data dashboard on the federal cyber workforce. Recruiting early career talent is another focus for the HR agency, in addition to reskilling, said Barke, and the agency’s director has also previewed a forthcoming legislative proposal on cybersecurity hiring and pay.

As for the rotational program, agencies are excited, said Barke, noting that interest has exceeded expectations.

“At the end of the day, if [participants] can go out and they can learn new skills and bring those back to their agency, and the host agency got somebody that brought some new techniques and new understandings... I think it's a win-win for both agencies and the employee,” said Barke.