Army uses colonel rank to recruit cyber talent
- By Lauren C. Williams
The Army announced that it was looking for its first colonel to join the service as part of its direct commissioning program for civilians who specialize in cybersecurity.
The announcement comes as the Army, and Defense Department as a whole, grapples with the problem of attracting and retaining cyber workers.
The service is hunting for the first colonel to come through its direct commissioning program for cyber operators, Army Cyber Director Brig. Gen. Jennifer Buckner said during a panel discussion about cyber teams at the AUSA conference and trade show on Oct. 8.
"We don't know what one looks like, but we're ready," Buckner said.
Because as government salaries can lag behind the private sector for comparable positions, the 2019 defense spending bill sought to expand the service's ability to recruit cyber workers at a higher pay grade.
Maj. Gen. Garrett Yee, Army deputy CIO, told reporters that direct hiring would become more common as the Army diversifies its civilian cyber workforce and speeds up on-boarding.
"If you're going to come in as a colonel, that really does open up some possibilities to come in and serve for a while and then go back out," to the private sector, Yee said. Base pay for a colonel (O-6 grade) ranges from $78,000 to more than $100,000, excluding allowances or incentive pay. Base pay for lieutenants ranges from just over $37,000 to $51,000 for seconds and $43,000 to just under $60,000 for firsts.
The program, which has been in place for nearly a year, has already commissioned two lieutenants and is working on a second wave to come in later this year.
"On the military side we bring in 18 to 23 year olds. They're always fresh ... and they learn more naturally digitally," he said. "But on the civilian side, our civil service side, the average age is 40."
That's not necessarily a bad thing, Yee said, noting that having experienced workers, many who come into cyber as a second career, is beneficial for the service. But the age disparity points to problems in hiring practices: DOD is too slow to hire professionals through the cyber-excepted service.
"The idea is to streamline some of that process to bring in civilians a little quicker" because otherwise "they get another job" while waiting to be brought on through CES.
"Part of the challenge is timely hiring, and you'll see from [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] down to the services [a push] to try to shorten that hiring timeline for all civil service," Yee said, but direct hiring will be more accelerated in cyber.