WASHINGTON — The Department of Defense has added thousands of additional cyber experts since US Cyber Command chief Gen. Keith Alexander created a plan to massively grow the ranks of the work force, but the agency is still thousands of people short, a DoD official said Thursday.
Alexander’s plan, devised a couple of years ago, called for growth in the cyber force of more than 6,000 experts, said Ken Bray, a Pentagon intelligence official.
“General Alexander came forward and said, ‘I think to do all of this, we need to start at around 6,000, 6,500, at the moment they were talking 6,200 specifically, more people to do cyber if you want to do this,” Bray said. “The 3,700 is what needs to be done. We’re not even halfway there yet on trying to get to the vision of what is a proper cyber force to adequately give capability to the national command authorities, to the COCOMs (Combatant Commands), and defend the nation.”
While Alexander has been public about his interest in increasing the workforce, he hasn’t disclosed either his total target or how far along the agency is in achieving that goal, although experts have placed both numbers in the thousands. Sources familiar with the personnel expansion voiced surprise that a DoD official publicly specified work force numbers since there is still some uncertainty in the plan.
Bray, speaking at the C4ISR Journal Conference, described the efforts the agency has made to add to the total number of cyber experts.
“Last year’s budget, the department made the decision that on the military intelligence side, we’ll feed into this over 400,” he said. “That’s a ‘12 budget decision. As we were making our ‘14 budget at the same time, the services and the combat support agencies kicked in another 2,000.”
But finding the additional people will be a challenge given the problems the government is facing recruiting capable people, said Jeff Moulton, director of information operations at the Georgia Tech Research Institute.
“A lot of people are not going to work for the government, just think about the effect of things like furlough Fridays,” Moulton said. “The competition for this talent is really tough.”
Those factors may deter some applicants and finding the right people is difficult, said Ron Sanders, former associate director of national intelligence.
“The people with those specific skills are not easy to come by,” he said. “If you’re talking about a candidate that is just casually looking at the federal government as a potential employer, this could dissuade them,”
Workers are likely to be protected from the ongoing budget crunch at DoD because cyber is a priority, and the agency should be able to attract those intrigued by advanced cyber work, he said.
“These are really, really cool jobs if you’re a cybersecurity person,” he said. “This part of the DoD budget is funded, and this mission is funded and a very high priority.”
Moulton said that he was concerned that in the rush to find warm bodies to fill positions, the agency might not rigorously verify the capability of the expanded cyber team and pick up left-over information technology professionals from elsewhere in government.
“Taking 3,500 people who are going to be laid off elsewhere is not the answer,” he said.
In recent months experts in and out of government have described issues with the training programs in place, as well as the certification requirements that are meant to verify the capability of cyber workers. DoD officials have said that the system is being overhauled to make sure that only those able to do the job will end up in critical cyber positions. Various segments of the new policy should be completed in the coming months.
The timing for a large expansion in personnel is also not ideal given the budget realities facing DoD, but the agency remains committed to finding the additional people, Bray said.
“We’re talking about drawing down, General Alexander is talking about now a whole percentage or two of increase in capability, one or two percent manpower increase at a time when we’re trying to take people out, that’s a big deal,” He said. “We will deal with that even in a declining budget in this ’15 budget cycle.”