DHS asks Congress to help its talent hunt

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is looking for a few good men and women to protect the country’s computer networks, but it is having trouble matching private sector salaries.

Phyllis Schneck, the department’s deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity, told a Senate panel on Wednesday that her agency needs Congress to help it hire the best and brightest in the business.

“From what I’m told, the hiring process is very, very difficult,” Schneck told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

One of the major barriers to attracting top cybersecurity talent to the DHS is the massive discrepancy in pay. In some cases, it can amount to “six-figure differences,” Schneck said. “And that’s before the stock.”

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“There’s fine talent out there, and I know with our mission, we could actually use our mission and outdo some of those salaries they’re offered” at other jobs, she said. “We have to have the flexibility and some additional competitiveness to bring them inside and see what we do and get them onboard. That’s our future.”

Lawmakers on the panel said that they heard the department’s complaints and were trying to respond.

“We are going to get you the capability to hire the people you need,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the panel’s ranking member. At the committee’s next markup, he said, the panel will consider a bill to relax the existing limits for hiring people.

“We’re just getting them hiring authority outside the range that the numbers that [the Office of Personnel Management] guidance gives now, much like we do [the National Security Agency] and some other areas,” he told The Hill.

Schneck said that the “calling” of public service, however, could make up for some of that difference in salary.

“What I would love to do is be able to pull some more people from the private sector and say ‘Come see what I learned and come join our team and help us,’ ” she said. “I know that our mission can pull them.”

Schneck has only been in her government role for about six months. Before that, she was chief technology office for the global public sector at McAfee, the computer security giant.

That’s a testament to her character, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said, which could inspire others to follow suit.

“I really appreciate the fact that you’re willing to leave probably a pretty good paying job and come here and work for the federal government,” he told Schneck. “It’s pretty important work.”