Federal Manager's Daily Report

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The federal government like the nation as a whole faces significant challenges in building up the workforce of cyber specialists to meet future needs but it does have some available for the short-term that could be used more effectively, a report says.

The report from the National Academy of Public Administration cites estimates that half a million cybersecurity positions across the public and private sectors remain unfilled, and the gap is only expected to grow. Without a comprehensive strategy for growing the supply of workers with those skills, federal agencies are part of a “zero-sum game of employers competing for the same limited pool of talent rather than growing the talent pool,” it says.

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While numerous agencies have programs underway to help build the supply of qualified employees reaching down into the K-12 level, they are not well coordinated, it found.

Among those programs are several designed specifically for developing skills of current and potential federal employees which “have helped develop the national workforce.” But for many of those employees—with the skills and security clearances sought by the private sector—”the attraction of higher pay can encourage employees to leave the federal government.”

Apprenticeship-type programs are on way to develop those skills among current workers, it says, although agencies “have generally preferred to hire experienced personnel or contract for the service rather than hire entry-level talent and develop them in-house.” Further, “Even if agencies come to appreciate the value of apprenticeships, it is not clear how to fund them. Attention will be needed to determine and build support for the appropriate funding mechanisms.”

The report said there also is potential in eliminating requirements for college degrees in certain positions in favor of certifications or other qualifications—one of the few Trump administration initiatives on federal personnel that the Biden administration is continuing to pursue.

“In addition to facilitating the ability of the federal government to recruit talent generally to staff agencies, the federal government must be able to recruit top talent from the private sector in a more targeted, near-term way to address immediate and critical challenges. This talent may not stay in the government but can help position solutions to various challenges that career staff work to implement over the longer term. Also, it is important to tap into private sector talent as a surge capacity in the wake of major cyberattacks,” it said.

“In the near-term, federal agencies will need to make the most of hiring flexibilities to work as well as possible within the existing federal personnel system. Moreover, this should be done in a consistent way across agencies,” it said.

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