The agency’s culture has been key to its hiring successes, Jen Easterly says.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has hired over 1,300 new employees since July 2021, CISA director Jen Easterly wrote in a Monday blog. In fiscal 2023 alone, CISA has hired 653 employees, according to an agency spokesperson.
“When I took over as director of CISA in July of 2021, hiring talent was among my highest priorities,” wrote Easterly. “We had grown in authorities and budget, but had many vacancies to fill to enable us to effectively serve the role that Congress intended for us as America’s civilian cyber defense agency.”
“Much needed to be done, including building an effective human capital machine to hire top-tier talent from across the nation, and just as importantly, building a culture that would attract and retain that elite talent,” she continued.
CISA's total workforce now numbers more than 3,160 employees. The agency was founded in 2018 to replace the National Protection and Programs Directorate as the primary cybersecurity agency at the Department of Homeland Security.
Even before CISA's founding, Congress was looking to grow and improve the cybersecurity workforce at DHS. In 2014, Congress passed legislation authorizing DHS to create new hiring rules and pay authorities for cybersecurity workers. Seven years later, the agency stood up its excepted service personnel system, called the Cyber Talent Management System.
When it launched, DHS officials said the goal was to hire 150 people into CISA and the DHS Office of the Chief Information Officer by the end of fiscal 2022, although hiring through the system was slow to take off. At this point, 127 people have been hired through the system across DHS, according to a CISA spokesperson. Sixty-seven of those were through CISA.
Easterly wrote that CTMS, along with recruitment, relocation and retention incentives, are helping CISA “pay a bit more than other places in the government,” but she pinned the agency’s hiring success on CISA’s “organizational culture we’ve been co-creating over the past two years.”
"No one joins the federal government to get rich,” she wrote in her recent blog. “Rather, they join for mission — an opportunity to serve the nation, ideally doing so with great teammates, inspiring leaders and an ability to make an impact every day.”
Still, other agencies have complained about the differences in authorities across the federal government and resulting poaching of employees, OPM director Kiran Ahuja said last fall.
The White House’s recently released cyber workforce strategy says that the administration plans to work with lawmakers on proposals “that complement the flexible hiring and compensation authorities” at DHS and the Defense Department “by establishing similar hiring, pay and talent management authorities in departments and agencies across the federal government” — something Ahuja has also previously discussed.
In an April hearing for the House Homeland Security Committee, Easterly told lawmakers that implementing CTMS had been “a real project” that the agency has had to look at “continuously” to “ensure it truly streamlines our ability to bring on more talent.”
At that time, she said that the department was up to “about 80 people” with the CTMS system, but CISA was still using its “normal” Title 5 authorities to hire talent and “hoping to use CTMS more aggressively this year.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comments from a CISA spokesperson.