As the Homeland Security Department’s role in the federal cybersecurity space continues to evolve, the agency is taking the lead in the people side of the cyber equation.
A team at DHS has created a tool that it says will help agency hiring managers and HR specialists write more accurate job descriptions for cyber professionals. A few agencies are testing the Cyber Management Support Initiative Push Button, a workbook capable of drafting federal cyber position descriptions and other human resource forms.
Renee Forney, executive director for the DHS Cyberskills Management Support Initiative and co-creator of the Push Button, said the tool should help shorten the current process from weeks and days to days and hours.
“It rapidly captures the position requirements and then presents them in a package that can be easily integrated in the agency’s current HR processes,” Forney said.
The Push Button is available now under a federalwide pilot, and DHS has worked with OPM to test the tool with several different agencies. The plan is to eventually add more agencies to the pilot over time, Forney said.
Forney and her team recently won an Igniting Innovation award from ACT-IAC in the “incubator” category for their work on the CMSI Push Button.
It’s no secret that agencies are struggling to attract new cyber professionals to the federal workforce. The Office of Personnel Management reiterated in April that cybersecurity was among six governmentwide critical skills gaps, and it encouraged agencies to begin drafting serious plans to close those gaps immediately.
For the human resources community, bringing on the most qualified talent starts with writing the right job description.
Forney said the position description was “the mother of all documents” in the human capital process.
“There’s a disconnect between the human capital professional and the cyber hiring manager,” she said. “What we tried to do was to come up with a way to allow them to collaborate, where you could make sure that you had all of the cyber technical information that accurately describes the position in detail from a technical perspective so that the technical person who is receiving this information via a job announcement … can accurately understand what it is that we are asking for from a federal perspective. It also assists the hiring manager with the accurate human capital technical language that needs to be included as a part of a position description.”
It’s also a concern OPM echoed as it continues to reach out to hiring managers and HR specialists under its Hiring Excellence campaign. OPM said that disconnect between the two was one of the biggest challenges it saw as agencies struggle to craft job announcements that accurately describe the specific skills they need.
“It’s nearly impossible to do the best cybersecurity work without having top talent,” Forney said.
That mindset applies to new and current federal employees, she added. DHS is ramping up training for its own employees, particularly at its law enforcement agencies and the National Programs and Protection Directorate.
In some cases, agencies are turning to alternative options for training. OPM has partnered with Champlain College and recently Excelsior College to give federal employees discounts on higher education courses.
But for DHS, it’s encouraging agencies to define the scope of their specific cybersecurity needs, develop standards and hold their employees accountable to them, Forney said.
“It’s really an exciting time right now where we are coming together as a federal workforce … bringing the best cyber professionals as well as human capital professionals, to look at what we can to deal with some of these challenges that face our cyber workforce,” she said.