DoD targets 3,000 civilian workers for new Cyber Excepted Service

In the initial phases of what the Defense Department says will be a multi-year effort to stand up its new Cyber Excepted Service, DoD will ask around 3,000 current employees to move from the traditional civil service system to one that offers them fewer job protections but might also boost their pay and promotion prospects.

Congress gave DoD broad new authorities to create a new pay and personnel system outside of the Title 5 regime that governs most of the federal workforce as part of the 2016 Defense authorization bill, believing DoD needed more flexibility to hire and fire personnel so that it could attract and retain the best and brightest. The law gives the department something close to carte blanche to create the new Cyber Excepted Service, so long as the department keeps Congress posted on what it’s up to.

As to new hires, the Pentagon sees the new authorities as especially helpful in creating the new National Background Investigation Bureau. That office will fall under the administration of the Office of Personnel Management, but DoD is in charge of developing its IT systems and developing NBIB’s cybersecurity personnel.

“I think we’ll begin hiring by around Oct. 1 for some of the initial cyber excepted force, because some of our exceptions have to do with what we’re working on with OPM to build a more secure background investigation system,” Terry Halvorsen, the DoD chief information officer, said Thursday.

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For current Defense workers, the 3,000 positions the department identified as potential candidates for conversion to the excepted service in a report to congressional committees are only a start.

DoD is standing up the Cyber Excepted Service by starting with civilians who work directly for U.S. Cyber Command, the military services’ cyber components, the Defense Information Systems Agency and its sister organization, the Joint Force Headquarters-DoD Information Networks.

A governing council, chaired by the CIO along with DoD personnel and policy officials, plans to expand its scope to examine positions in other parts of the Defense Department and the military services in the coming months.

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“Determining which pieces of those are in the cyber workforce is step one,” Halverson said. “We’re getting closer to being able to do that. We need to be able to do it consistently and clearly articulate, on a rational basis, why you’re in and why you’re out.”

Based on the legislation, none of the department’s current employees can be forced to move to the new personnel system if they don’t want to. But DoD is hoping that at most of them will, because its most-qualified workers would be eligible for skill-based bonuses under the new system.

The actual number and pay rates within the cyber excepted workforce will mostly mirror the General Schedule, except that its employees will be eligible for annual bonuses based on their STEM or cyber skills, akin to the practices the National Security Agency already uses as part of the Defense Civilian Intelligence Personnel System (DCIPS).

DoD has not yet determined the size of those bonuses. They’ll be decided after a manpower analysis of its cyber requirements, currently being conducted by the office of the undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness and the Joint Staff. That report is due later this fall.

“[This will be] further informed by coding cyber positions across over 50 designated work roles DoD developed for use across the federal government,” officials wrote in a report to Congress. “Together, this data will support market-based compensation analytics and drive the development of appropriate pay levels to recruit and retain cyber personnel.”

In the report, Defense officials emphasized the first 3,000 workers it’s targeted for conversion are only a start.

The entire federal government is in the process of coding federal employees who their agencies deem to be part of the “cyber workforce,” following directions Congress issued as part of the 2015 Cybersecurity Workforce Assessment Act. The National Institute of Standards and Technology and OPM are expected to issue more guidance next month explaining how agencies should define cyber jobs.

Whatever form that guidance ultimately takes, the Pentagon indicated that it intends to lean heavily upon it to place a healthy chunk of its new cybersecurity hires into the excepted workforce, including new employees taking over for departing workers who’d decided to stay within Title 5.

“The department intends to use this coding effort to fully identify all DoD cyber personnel and to use the resulting data to inform migration into the Cyber Excepted Service,” officials wrote. “Over the long term, all cyber personnel, either hired into or converted to the excepted service will be assigned to positions coded in accordance with [the Cybersecurity Workforce Assessment Act].

Read more of the DoD Reporter’s Notebook.

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