DHS chief on unfilled cybersecurity positions: We’re working on it

DHS chief on unfilled cybersecurity positions: We’re working on it
© Greg Nash

The head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Thursday told Congress that the agency continues to look for ways to recruit and retain a skilled cyber workforce, even as the federal government struggles to overcome a shortage of unfilled positions.

DHS Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenWhite House backs Stephen Miller amid white nationalist allegations Top House Democrats ask for review of DHS appointments Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary MORE told Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeTrump calls latest impeachment hearings 'a great day for Republicans' Five things to know about Tuesday's impeachment hearings Live coverage: House holds third day of public impeachment hearings MORE (R-Texas) during a Hill hearing that while the government cannot pay their cybersecurity employees as much as the private industry, they have found they can still attract skilled cyber workers to serve their country if people understand the threat and the mission. 

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While the DHS uses the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education framework to help “identify the unique skill sets” the agency needs to hire, she said, the agency also is working to help “folks in the community understand the mission.”

And to boost the training their cyber workforce receives, Nielsen pointed to pilot programs they have with the private industry that help cross-train government and private sector employees.

“So we can both benefit from that experience,” she added.

While the government has long confronted the challenge of training and then retaining skilled employees, the demand for skilled cyber specialists continues to grow.

This month, Cybersecurity Ventures predicted that by 2021 there will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity positions, a 1 million-position jump from the empty desks it reported in 2014.

There are several efforts across the federal government to address this issue.

Earlier this month, the Office of Personnel Management also gave federal agencies a one-year deadline to identify and report on skill shortages in their cybersecurity workforces.

The memorandum required each agency to tell the government's human resource office what their "critical needs" are in a broad range of cyber workforce areas, including security and information technology, by April 2019.