Pentagon nearly ready to implement new personnel system for cyber workforce

A year and a half after Congress granted the Defense Department expansive new authorities to create a new personnel system for its cyber workforce, the Pentagon is finally getting ready to issue the necessary rules to implement such a system.

The personnel practices for the new Cyber Excepted Service should be published by “July or August,” said Dr. John Zangardi, the department’s acting chief information officer. After that, DoD plans to begin hiring new employees and moving current ones into the system in a phased approach across the military services and Defense agencies.

“The bottom line is the hiring process can be very cumbersome, and just plain takes too long,” Zangardi said Thursday at AFCEA’s Defensive Cyber Operations Symposium in Baltimore, Md. “It’s frustrating for those of us on the government side, and even more frustrating for the folks trying to get into government. When hiring cyber professionals, this just doesn’t work.”

The legislation allowing for the new excepted service – part of the 2016 Defense authorization bill – gave the department wide latitude to create new personnel and pay structures outside of the traditional civil service system, including the authority to define who a “cyber” employee is. The new service would fall within Title 10, under the direct authority of the secretary of Defense, as opposed to Title 5 of U.S. code, which governs the vast majority of civilian employees across the government and is largely administered by the Office of Personnel Management.

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In a report to Congress last year, the Pentagon said it would seek to move about 3,000 members of the current workforce into the new system during its initial phases, but thus far, has offered few other details about how the excepted service would work.

But Zangardi said Thursday that one of its primary objectives was to give Defense components much more flexibility in hiring and recruiting new employees, eliminating the restriction that most new hires be made through the USAJobs website.

“They can source candidates with more options, posting jobs clearly identified as Cyber Excepted Service in a wide range of locations – like on DoD component websites, other publications, job fairs, campus recruiting, or even USAJobs,” he said.

The department also plans to use the new authority to make its salaries slightly more competitive with the private sector, including through supplemental pay packages targeted at particular geographic areas, or tailored to DoD’s mission needs and work roles.

“But keep in mind, we will never compete with civilian cyber salaries. We just can’t,” Zangardi said. “The mission and patriotism need to be the prime motivators for coming here. I think our mission’s very interesting, and I think patriotism is an important factor for folks who want to come and work for the Department of Defense.”

The legislation made clear that the department cannot force any of its existing workforce to move into the new excepted service, but officials have previously said that they believe a large majority would be willing to do so if asked, in part because they would be eligible for the newly-established bonus payments. Base salaries and pay grades, however, will mostly mirror the General Schedule.