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How Federal CIO Suzette Kent Is Reimagining the Cyber Workforce

Changes are underway to shorten the time needed to recruit new technical talent to government

It currently takes the federal government an average of 106 days to fill a vacant information technology position, a number that makes US Chief Information Officer Suzette Kent says makes her shudder.

To put that number in perspective, if a position became open on January 1 it would not be filled until April 16. And that number is, of course, just an average. Some positions, especially those that require special skills, can take much longer.

But changes are underway. Kent noted during her presentation at the recently-concluded Symantec Government Symposium that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is in the process of shortening that time. The agency recently issued a proposed rule that would give agency heads direct hiring authority for hard-to-fill IT positions. Kent also said the administration expects to issue guidance to help agencies standardize expectations for the IT workforce.

“We’re going to continue to make significant investments in the federal workforce in this space, from entry [level] all the way through our lead executives,” she said.

The Changing Workforce Conversation

While Kent and OMB have a plan to more quickly fill positions and recruit new technology talent into government, an idea she has pitched aims to change how the technology workforce is used. She wants to find ways to rotate private sector talent into short-term stints of federal service.

“The opportunity that we have right now going forward is how we look at risk, and how we deploy different individuals, definitely in the federal government, but also how we continue that dialogue with private sector, because we are fighting for the same people. Both sides are very committed to that movement back-and-forth,” Kent said.

This is a key part of the cyber security conversation. The Symantec Government Symposium discussed how to redefine cyber security in government, and that must start with a look at its people. While federal agencies have made great strides in cyber defense over the past decade, cloud computing and mobility, among other technological changes, have altered the jobs of cyber security professionals.

As such, government leaders like Kent – as well as the government’s industry partners – must change how they think to address these problems. Kent’s idea is a strong one. Government and industry typically compete for the same technology talent.

By trying to create an employee-sharing program, government can leverage some of this industry talent. This program, and others like it, must still make it through the lengthy government approval process, but Kent and her team have made a concerted effort to explain the benefits of a strong technology workforce. Making cyber talent a priority is critical to success.

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About the Author

Chris Townsend

Vice President, Federal, Symantec

Chris leads a team dedicated to working with Federal agencies to improve their security postures, while reducing cost and complexity. With 20 years of experience, Chris is committed to advancing government cybersecurity.

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