OPM cribs military on cyber workforce framework

ATLANTA — The Office of Personnel Management is taking a page from the military in the way it will train its new cyber workforce.

OPM wants to build a professional credentialing framework modeled after the military as part of its new cyber workforce strategy, said Beth Cobert, acting director of OPM, during an Aug. 2 speech.

“When someone says they are a Navy SEAL or an Army Ranger, we know exactly what that means, we know they have advanced skills, we know they’re at the top of their game. We want to work on building something akin to that model that includes badges and a rigorous qualification program that we can provide to our cyber professionals across government,” Cobert said at the Department of Defense Intelligence Information Systems Worldwide Conference. “When someone says they are a cyber defender or cyber warrior or a cyber investigator, their level of expertise will be immediately understood and recognized.”

As part of the strategy OPM is working with DoD to create a cyber civilian hire service for specialized areas that will mirror some of the accepted service elements in the intelligence community, Cobert said.

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Last month, OPM released its plan to hire more cyber professionals to its ranks. Even though the government expects to add 6,500 cyber workers by the end of 2016, it is still lacking the staffing it needs.

“We have the fundamental challenge of getting and building more talent. We need to build that talent for the government, we need to build that talent for the private sector and for academia. The need for cyber talent has grown faster than our ability to meet it,” Cobert said. “The cybersecurity plan invests in education and training and outreach to encourage more people to join this discipline.”

The Office of Management and Budget, the Homeland Security Department and the National Security Agency, for example, will work with academic institutions to survey the current state of cyber curriculum and develop guidelines detailing minimum requirements for specific areas.

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OPM also will implement a governmentwide recruitment strategy aimed at recruiting diverse talent, including developing the CyberCorps Scholarships for Service program and expanding the Presidential Innovation Fellows program to include a cybersecurity hiring track.

“To develop and strengthen the workforce of federal cybersecurity professionals, the government must demonstrate that it is the employer of choice for such professionals, as it offers rewarding, unique, and dynamic careers that rival opportunities anywhere else in the world,” the July OPM memo laying out the cybersecurity workforce strategy stated.

Cobert said the government needs to stop thinking people are interested in joining a job for 30 years and keeping it as their sole career.

She said people are now thinking about their occupations more fluidly and therefore OPM is working on strategies that will make it easier for cybersecurity workers to move between the private and public sectors.

That is another idea borrowed from DoD. Defense Secretary Ash Carter created his Force of the Future initiative last year, which also tried to ease the transitions between private and public.

Cobert also said OPM is looking into rotations for cyber workers, an idea that has long been part of military life.

It’s “something that, frankly, is not as well embedded in other parts of the civilian government, but we know that [rotations] are a great example for us to go swarm talent when we need it and to help people learn new skills,” Cobert said. “Those kind of core interagency rotations are going to be part of our talent plan as we build, for example, the National Background and Investigations Bureau (NBIB).”

OPM is working to create NBIB as a new organization that will process security clearances.

In the meantime, OPM is still working to lessen its security clearance backlog. Cobert said OPM has expanded federal hiring of background investigators. OPM’s goal is to bring on an additional 400 agents this fiscal year and Cobert said the office is on track to meet that goal.

OPM has 237 new investigators deployed and has more in the pipeline, Cobert said.

“We brought back retired agents to help in areas of particularly high demand and we are using overtime on the federal side to increase production,” Cobert said.