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Tech Careers and the Future of Homeland Security

It’s not just the private sector, DHS organizations and contractor companies are both competing for tech talent.

The Department of Homeland Security and its sub-organizations have one of the most important and high profile cybersecurity missions in government, but like many other Departments, it faces competition to attract and retain tech talent.

DHS has one of the most highly regarded reputations for attracting tech talent; but, even DHS’s reputation for high-quality cyber work cannot overcome compensation challenges and other issues that make it difficult for the Department to recruit and retain tech experts.

The number of cyber-specialized professionals at DHS has remained roughly the same up until recently since DHS has launched new programs to attract tech talent and fast-track the hiring process for them known as the Excepted Service. The Excepted Service was instituted to allow DHS to hire cyber experts outside of the traditional civil service system, often at much higher salaries. Additionally DHS has its new Cyber Talent Management System, that allows DHS to offer salaries as high as the vice president’s in some cases.

These pay scales highlight that the Department’s ability to compensate its cyber-specialized workforce is an important component DHS is investing in so that it can aggressively compete with private sector employers. During a hearing held by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform subcommittee on government operations, Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja said OPM wants to work with lawmakers to streamline innovative hiring programs. “We also want to work with Congress to develop a government wide cyber workforce plan that puts agencies on equal footing when competing for cyber talent,” she said. Later on in the hearing, Ahuja said there is now “competition within and among our agencies” for cyber experts. She specifically highlighted how excellent the DHS’s Cyber Talent Management System is, stating, “That has now become kind of the king of programs within the federal government,” she said.

Earlier this week, the White House hosted a cyber workforce summit where officials pointed to more than 700,000 open cybersecurity jobs across the United States with many of them being in the DHS. “This is a place that is a challenge for the federal government. It’s a challenge for a lot of employers,” Miller said. “There’s a shortage across the country.”