Cyber rotation program aims to boost skills, retention of federal employees

In the hopes of boosting employee retention, the Office of Personnel Management launched a new platform for agencies to advertise openings in a cyber workforce ...

Federal employees working in cyber now have a way to develop skills, while also seeing what it’s like to work at another agency.

In the hopes of boosting retention of cyber employees, the Office of Personnel Management launched a new platform Monday for agencies to advertise openings in the cyber workforce rotation program.

The rotation program lets agencies offer temporary assignments to federal employees who are currently working in IT, cyber or cyber-related positions in government. Eligible employees can apply for and work at a different agency for between six months and one year before returning to their home agency.

“The cyber rotations will advance career opportunities and support employee engagement, satisfaction and retention,” OPM said.

The open rotations are now available to view on OPM’s Open Opportunities page — a subsection of USAJobs for current federal employees. Right now, there are 53 open opportunities listed, but that number will likely grow as the program gains traction.

The goal of the rotation program is two-fold: help current cyber employees enhance their skills,  and bring new ideas back to home agencies, OPM said.

OPM first issued guidance for the rotation program in March this year. In the guidance, OPM said agencies can advertise their own rotations through the program as well as select employees from other agencies for temporary assignments.

“As with other cyber workforce initiatives, this program will be implemented most effectively through a partnership between your office and your agency’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) offices,” OPM said in the March guidance.

The rotation program also dovetails with the White House’s national cybersecurity strategy, which calls on agencies to strengthen the federal cyber workforce through improvements to staff development and retention.

After bipartisan support in Congress to create a federal cyber rotation program, President Joe Biden signed a bill into law last June to call on OPM to set up the program. But the idea of a rotating cyber workforce for agencies is not a new concept. Both the Trump and Obama administrations implemented similar types of initiatives.

Cyber rotations have become more popular over time as a way for agencies to encourage staff retention, especially in a field that struggles to recruit employees.

There’s a growing shortage of cyber employees both in government and nationwide. In the federal government, more than a third of cybersecurity positions are currently vacant, according to Cyberseek, an organization funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Earlier this year, a report from OPM showed that agencies continue to struggle with a governmentwide skills gap in cybersecurity. The gap stems from a workforce that is lacking in both skills and number of employees.

But agencies may have a better way to at least find where those skills gaps are. In April, OPM launched a cyber workforce dashboard, which offers data on demographics, retirement eligibility, attrition and more. The goal is to give agencies more details on gaps in their cyber workforce.

In addition to addressing skills gaps, the rotation program may also help bring more diverse and early-career talent to agencies — another goal of the White House’s cyber strategy.

Currently, federal employees working in cyber and IT positions skew older than the federal workforce overall. The cyber workforce is also one of the least diverse segments of the federal workforce.

In addition to the rotation program, OPM has broader plans to support the governmentwide cyber workforce. OPM is planning to soon issue a legislative proposal that looks to reform how the government recruits and retains cyber talent.

Other efforts to bolster the government’s cyber workforce are still up in the air. Earlier this year, OPM proposed a Special Salary Rate (SSR) for IT and cyber feds, but governmentwide implementation is currently on hold. Agencies including the Defense Department and the Agriculture Department have already said they are not planning to implement the SSR.

Outside the governmentwide SSR, the Department of Veterans Affairs and some defense intelligence agencies have individually approved higher pay rates for certain cyber positions.

For the new cyber rotation program, there will be an open period each November when agencies will coordinate cyber employees to apply for interagency rotations, OPM said. But agencies can still announce open rotations at any time of the year.


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