Shutterstock image ID: 569172169 By Zenzen

OMB plans to backstop cyber by retraining

The future federal cybersecurity workforce might already be in place -- almost. The federal government is taking steps to fill high-demand positions in tech by retraining agency employees who currently have no cyber or IT background.

The Office of Management and Budget, in partnership with the Department of Education and the CIO Council, is launching an educational program to train current federal employees without an IT background in cyber defense skills.

The Federal Cybersecurity Reskilling Academy is "the first of many of the reskilling efforts that the administration is exploring," said Federal CIO Suzette Kent on a briefing with reporters. "One of the best places for us to start is investing in our current federal workforce and taking our existing talent and helping them bridge into areas where we see that demand."

The goal of the three-month curriculum, Kent said, is to provide current feds without a cyber or IT background with a mix of live and in-classroom training to help fill tech skills gaps.

"We do know a few small programs won't be enough to solve the challenge of our overall scale, but that's why we're going to have many programs. We're going to learn from each one," she said, adding that a future cohort will be open to all federal employees and will include courses on robotic process automation, as well as executive leadership skills.

Jeff Neal, senior vice-president of the management consulting firm ICF, said the program is "worth pursuing."

"Reskilling" the workforce has been a tenant of the administration's workforce policy, and a key part of the President's Management Agenda. Neal said these sorts of training programs "can work and are an effective means of addressing recruiting deficits."

Former Air Force Brig. Gen. Greg Touhill, who served as the nation's first chief information security officer, added he was "hugely excited about this."

"This is something we proposed back when I was in service," he said. "The three-month academy part is a good start, but I think there's going to be a whole lot more investment."

Touhill pointed out the proposal was inspired by similar programs within the military that he said have had great success, adding he expects there to be significant interest among civilian-side employees as well.

For the program to achieve maximum effectiveness, Touhill did note "I'd like to see what happens after the academy" to the participants — as well as how it'll be funded, whether agencies whose employees attend the program will be taxed, and how big future programs will be and how many of them there will be.

"Are they going to be awarded a particular skill level, are they going to go into a particular series? What's next is still unanswered," he said.

Interested feds must apply by Jan. 11. Following a critical-thinking and problem-solving assessment, about 25 selected applicants will begin training in March.

"Even though we are starting with smaller numbers in each of these programs, the approach we're taking across the councils, and our executives and all of the agencies will let us understand the success rate and expand and industrialize those across the government," said Kent.

The target date for the second cohort is sometime in the spring of 2019.

This article was updated Dec. 2.

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