Incoming WH official ‘very bullish’ on strengthening federal cyber workforce

Daniel Ragsdale is joining the White House to help put the new cyber workforce and education strategy into action.

The White House’s Office of the National Cyber Director is bringing in a retired Army officer and former Pentagon technology official to help put the Biden administration’s national cyber workforce and education strategy into action.

Daniel Ragsdale is joining the national cyber director’s office as deputy assistant director for workforce and education, according to an announcement this week from Two Six Technologies. Ragsdale has spent the past two years at Two Six Technologies, first as vice president for research and development, and most recently as vice president for DoD strategy.

In an interview, Ragsdale said that he doesn’t start the new White House position until Aug. 14 and stressed he was still speaking in his personal capacity.

Ragsdale is joining the White House as the national cyber director’s office implements a new workforce and education strategy, released last week, to help address a deficit of cyber talent across the nation.

“We have a true crisis, at least in my mind, in terms of unfilled cybersecurity roles, not just across the federal government, but frankly, all through the private sector,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do to address the challenges that we have to attract, to recruit, to hire, to retain, to retrain.”

And Ragsdale said he is “very bullish” about opportunities to strengthen the federal cyber workforce, one of the major “pillars” of the new strategy.

“In order to realize our goals of attracting the best and brightest, we’ve got to make sure that we’re communicating to the American people, whether they be young, middle career, or older, that there are extraordinary opportunities in the public sector,” he said.

Ragsdale described his career as one steeped in cybersecurity research and education.

After serving for 30 years in the Army, he retired and became a civilian program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, where he oversaw cybersecurity and education projects. He then became the founding director of the Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center, helping to build out the university’s cybersecurity program.

“We substantially enhanced the curriculum, we created opportunities for students and frankly, faculty to learn as much as they could about the topics and lit a lot of fires,” he said. “There’s a quote that I use often that, ‘Education ain’t about filling buckets. It’s about lighting fires.’”

Ragsdale later served in the Defense Department again as principal director for cyber in the Pentagon’s research and engineering directorate before joining Two Six Technologies, where he said he learned that “the bottom line is not incompatible with a mission focus.”

Earlier this year, Ragsdale said he heard from former National Cyber Director Chris Inglis, who encouraged him to pursue an opportunity at ONCD.

“His skills, experience, and leadership abilities will be an invaluable resource for the ONCD mission, in particular for the Technology and Ecosystem Line of Effort,” Inglis said in a statement provided by Two Six Technologies.

The White House’s new workforce and education strategy specifically prioritizes reducing barriers to the cybersecurity field through apprenticeships, paid internships and the use of skills-based assessments, rather than relying purely on degrees, certificates and experience.

Ragsdale emphasized the need to start “engaging young people early in their academic lives” to both emphasize the importance of cyber safety, but also potentially inspire them to pursue a cybersecurity role in the future.

“We have to effectively communicate to inspire a larger group of people to pursue government service, and make it clear to them that not only will they have an impact, but they’ll be supported, they’ll be resourced,” Ragsdale said.

During his time at Texas A&M and elsewhere, Ragsdale said a major priority was creating “cybersecurity competitions” where students and other competitors could “better understand some of the technology that’s in play.”

He said the “most impactful activities” he’s seen are those that introduce cyber training beyond a classroom setting through competitions and other opportunities.

“One of the most essential aspects of learning how to operate in this space is to be able to not do this with white cards or as thought experiments, but actually interact with the technologies,” he said.

Ragsdale specifically highlighted the focus on expanding paid internships to help introduce more people to the cybersecurity field. The Biden administration wants to expand the use of paid internships across the federal government, whether they’re related to cybersecurity or not.

“If we think and we do believe that internships are central to attracting, recruiting, retaining, then of course, we have to make them paid internships, and we have to be focused on them,” Ragsdale said.

And he also emphasized the importance of the White House’s objective to attract and hire a diverse federal workforce that expands opportunities for underrepresented groups and underserved communities.

“We will not get there unless we get more people to the table,” Ragsdale said.

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