OPM survey shaping future cyber workforce

By Max Cacas
Federal News Radio

With today’s start of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, federal officials are gearing up for a push to raise public awareness of the need to secure the nation’s computer networks. But some also are using it as an opportunity to explore how to recruit and retain the cybersecurity workers of the future.

Maureen Higgins, assistant director of Agency Support and Technical Assistance with the Office of Personnel Management, described during the recent National Institutes of Standards and Technology symposium entitled “Shaping the Future of Cybersecurity Education,” a new study to gauge and forecast the cybersecurity workforce of the future.

Higgins said the survey now is underway and will include a first-ever categorization of cybersecurity workers.


These categories include:

  • Network operations and defense, which some agencies say includes protecting critical infrastructure and the energy grid;
  • Law enforcement and counter-intelligence;
  • Specialized computer network operations, particularly in the intelligence community.

Higgins said one challenge for agencies is that workforce planning has to include the requirement that certain jobs fall into very specific occupational series — which she said becomes difficult when trying to categorize the wide variety of cybersecurity workers that exist.

Higgins said OPM is working with agencies to draft competency models for all the different cyber-related jobs.

She added OPM is trying to get a handle on the challenges that agencies say they face in trying to hire the cybersecurity workers they need. One issue that arises, in different forms is pay.

“We’ve heard some agencies say it’s a challenge to compete with private industry, but we’ve also heard some agencies say it’s a challenge to compete with other agencies,” she said.

Higgins said some agencies pay workers through a strict General Schedule pay scale while others use pay-for-performance and others have more pay flexibilities to entice potential workers. OPM has authorized direct hire authority since June 2003 for IT security workers in the GS-2210 series at grades GS-9 and above.

The OPM cybersecurity survey continues through Oct.11, with full results expected later this year.

But even before the agencies and the private sector can offer people jobs in cybersecurity, they have to first be motivated, and then educated in the disciplines that have to do with this job sector.

Robert Spear, the director of the CyberWatch Center at the Prince Georges Community College in Largo Md., said the center is a national cybersecurity education program.

“CyberWatch is a consortium,” he told the conference, “of higher-ed institutions who are members, along with partners in business and industry and associations, funded by the National Science Foundation. The mission of CyberWatch is to improve the quantity and quality of the information assurance in the nation.”

He said CyberWatch is one of three cybersecurity education groups set up by the federally-funded NSF, focusing their efforts in five key areas:

  • Cybersecurity curriculum development
  • Cybersecurity faculty development
  • Student development
  • K-12 education, which he says includes the three previous categories
  • Dissemination and outreach

Spear said part of CyberWatch’s outreach to cybersecurity college faculty, for example, includes an island in the popular virtual world known as Second Life.

He added that CyberWatch now includes 49 educational institutions in 18 states ranging from K-12, to graduate and post-graduate cybersecurity programs at colleges and universities.

This story is part of Federal News Radio’s daily Cybersecurity Update brought to you by Tripwire. For more cybersecurity news, click here.

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