The Defense Department thinks it’s gotten about all the mileage it can out of its special pay and personnel system for cyber and IT professionals. Now it’s time to expand it, potentially delivering more competitive salaries to tens of thousands of additional IT workers across the department.
Congress first gave DoD permission to create the Cyber Excepted Service more than seven years ago, and although the department was initially slow to implement it, officials now think they’ve used the authority for as many positions as they legally can: about 15,000. So the Pentagon is sending Congress a legislative proposal that would expand the system to as many as 75,000 employees.
“The authority that gave the secretary the ability to create CES is very limited: we looked at the Cyber Mission Force and the Cyber Operation Force, and if [the position] is not in that bucket, it can’t go,” Patrick Johnson, the director of the DoD CIO’s Workforce Innovation Directorate told attendees this month at the Department of the Navy’s annual IT conference in Norfolk, Va. “But our cyber workforce is so much bigger than that core, and the cyberspace domain is much wider than that. It would cost us a little but more to have people in CES, but I always argue you get what you pay for.”
Within certain limitations, of course. In fact, cost considerations are the main reasons DoD is highly unlikely to opt into the new Special Salary Rate (SSR) the Office of Management and Budget announced in February for 2210-classified IT and cyber positions. Johnson said DoD currently estimates that implementing the SSR would cost the department $740 million per year, and none of that money is in DoD’s budget proposal for next year.
“So you can imagine the department’s not in favor of taking that approach across that wide swath,” he said. “We favor a more targeted approach where we look at the areas within 2210s. I’ve got about 47,000 2210s and about 11,000 vacancies, so how do I move the dial? I would rather focus on the top 20 work roles where I have high attrition rates of over 50%. How do I get that down and then manage it that way?”
And CES is quite a bit less of a blunt instrument. It gives individual DoD commands the ability to select the positions they want to move into the new system. And rather than setting fixed pay rates for an entire job series, it lets the department offer “targeted local market supplements” that are designed to calibrate its pay rates to the going rates for IT professionals in a given area.
And, in theory, the more targeted philosophy should fit nicely with work the department is currently doing to get a more granular understanding of exactly who makes up its IT and cyber workforce.
As part of developing its recently-released cyber workforce strategy, the department identified 72 distinct work roles, including new ones for AI, data and software-related work — part of an effort to classify employees according to the actual work they do, not just their job title or occupational series.
“The next step is we’re going to be looking at our operational force — our offensive and defensive operators — and that will probably expand that considerably as we break that out,” Johnson said. “All of this gets to the questions that are coming from the Hill and Government Accountability Office saying, ‘Hey, you can’t identify your force adequately, there’s a readiness issue.’ This gets to that so that we can track that force, set the qualifications and we can do so at an enterprise level.”
Meanwhile, the military services have projects of their own to get a better grasp of the cyber and IT they currently employ, what they truly need, and exactly where the mismatches are.
The Department of the Navy, for example, is creating “master” definitions to try to come up with something of a Rosetta Stone to translate the various descriptions of skillsets the service currently has for its various military and civilian occupations across the Navy and Marine Corps.
When it’s done, that data will feed into a “total force data hub” that’s viewable on configurable dashboards, said Sarah Nather, the director of the human capital management division in the office of the assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs.
“Making sure that we’re coding our workforces correctly is really important from a data perspective, because if we don’t code them correctly, we can’t look at qualifications, we can’t see where the gaps in our workforce are and where that talent may be lacking,” she said. “We’re doing multi-phase efforts of re-coding, making sure that coding is correct with our partners in the cyber community and the Department of Defense to create that foundation. Because the cyber workforce is our foundation to innovation. If we don’t have a strong workforce there, we truly can’t innovate.”
But Nather said similar approaches could also work for the rest of the Navy’s functional communities – not just cyber. One key, she said, is pulling together workforce information from across all of the IT systems that contain manpower and personnel data. As of now, there are 84 in the Navy Department alone.
“We’re leveraging Jupiter, the data analytics environment for the DON, to build visualizations. We’re in the process of building a visualization which will allow us to identify where those mismatches are in the data, help the community improve the coding, and understand what those qualifications are,” she said. “We also want to create filters for each of our functional communities so they can understand where their gaps are and do analytics and filter on all of our dashboards – for compensation, for looking at manpower, for our training. We want to make it so that every functional community has the ability to go from reactive to proactive.”