Last October, the U.S. government began hiring 6,500 new cybersecurity IT professionals. It has hired 3,000 so far, and plans to hire another 3,500 by January 2017, the White House said Tuesday.
The government is now trying to improve its recruiting and retention of cybersecurity professionals. This includes finding ways to improve government pay, which can be well below the private sector.
This strategy was detailed Tuesday in a White House memo. In it, officials called for expanded job recruiting campaigns "in order to raise awareness of employment opportunities and compete for top cybersecurity talent," Shaun Donovan, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, Beth Cobert, the acting director of the Office of Personnel Management and federal CIO Tony Scott wrote in the memo.
This hiring is intended to improve the nation's response to "increasingly sophisticated and persistent cyber threats that pose strategic, economic, and security challenges to our nation," the White House officials said.
The U.S. faces ongoing attacks from a wide range of people and organizations, including nation-states -- China in particular.
The government cybersecurity move seeks everyone from recent college graduates to experienced professionals.
Government wages can be low relative to the sector. For instance, a job ad for an "IT specialist INFOSEC" sets a salary floor of $55,670. The wages can rise to just over $100,000, and a master's degree is needed.
In the private sector, a cybersecurity specialist with three-plus years of experience has a national average salary of $99,000, with a range between $83,000 and $117,000. For someone with five-plus years of experience, the national average is $118,000, said David Foote, chief analyst at Foote Partners, an IT salary research and consulting firm.
Demand for cybersecurity professionals has been high generally, said Foote. "There just isn't enough talent to go around," he said, and in a scarce market "the private sector usually wins because they can pay more."
The U.S. plans to do more to reach women, in particular, who comprise less than 25% of the government's cybersecurity workforce.
The White House, in its memo, said it will explore ways, either under existing laws or new ones, "to offer prospective employees more competitive compensation" as well as provide "meaningful work" and a "clear career path."
The government's plan envisions creating a rewarding environment, one that empowers workers but acknowledges "that some of the cybersecurity employees the federal government hopes to attract may only wish to stay for a short period of service," wrote Donovan. "This is a different way of thinking about the federal workforce and requires new programs, initiatives, and ways of approaching recruitment and retention efforts."
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