“National Guard” for Cyber Security Could Bridge Gap Between Government and Technology

Media Division | March 20, 2017

Tech is a hot field.  Some of the areas with the biggest projected job growth, where innovation and excitement are taking off, where “market disrupters” are changing the way that we live our lives, are all in the area of technology.   Markets are created and millionaires are made, with the biggest names in technology competing for top talent in every nation.

All of which doesn’t make a job working for the federal government sound very exciting.

In order to compete, governments are going to need to up their game and reinvent recruitment and federal service.

The Appeal

For those old enough to remember the “dot-comm crash,” the internet was a game-changer as soon as it started to spread.  Starting as early as about 1995, it seemed that everyone who got a website off the ground was going to be successful.  Prior to then, no one had really heard of “Silicone Valley,” and it certainly hadn’t earned that moniker.

For at least six years, the dot-comm market place exploded, but then the bubble burst.  That crash led to speculation that Silicone Valley was a thing of the past.

But a number of factors, creativity topping the list, caused that Bay Area valley to again explode—to this day it is considered the “startup hub,” particularly for tech businesses.  Just in the past couple of weeks two of the biggest IPO’s (initial public offerings, when a business “goes public”) have come from the tech start-up market: SnapChat and MuleSoft broke all initial trading records.

For young, tech-savvy, creative types, the appeal of being a part of something that could potentially go huge, draws in top-talent from all over the world.  Some of those companies do not pay well (if at all!) when they first get started, instead promising a share in later profits.

Big and established tech businesses, however, like Google, Apple, Netflix, and Amazon, attract top-talent with big paychecks and “corporate culture”—appealing work environments that make long hours not feel so arduous.

The Market

Like any business or activity, recruiting tech talent to work for the government could be looked as a marketplace.  Based on the success of recruitment in tech, it seems that top talent is looking for three things:

  1. An enjoyable work environment. Places like Google aim to create “the happiest, most productive workplace in the world.”  Employee engagement creates loyalty.
  2. The possibility of growth. In many fields, but tech especially, young, fresh talent will sign-on for smaller paychecks if the possibility of growth and a later reward is there.
  3. Paychecks, of course. Though, those “intangibles” mean more to many people in tech than the paycheck itself.

If government jobs want to compete for talent with some of these other companies, examining that market and then adjusting recruitment strategies needs to be part of the equation—it’s time to shed the stodgy federal employee image.

The Possibilities

One way in which the federal government has successfully mimicked tech companies is in the creation of “bug bounty” programs—rewarding hackers for finding faults in a system, rather than waiting for an attack to uncover it.  “Hack the Army” and “Hack the Pentagon” are two such programs in the United States.

The US has also started funding education for those who will work in cybersecurity after getting their degree.  The Department of Homeland Security has a page devoted to working in federal cybersecurity, through the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies (NICCS).  Just like military educational efforts, they will provide scholarships for those who will devote a specified period of time to working for the federal government.

Another existing program, that could be modified for cybersecurity use, would be the National Guard.  The National Guard is part-time government service.  If tailored correctly, it could appeal to the tech industry by:

  • Allowing an individual to continue civilian work, with only a part-time government commitment (think: two paychecks).
  • Providing government benefits for that part-time commitment. That means that someone working at a start-up who is not yet receiving a regular paycheck and full benefits, could commit to the “Cyber National Guard” and have healthcare coverage and other benefits that bridge that gap.
  • Paying for further training or education, making it possible for someone interested in tech to improve their skill set.

The federal government could also consider a “start-up scholarship,” where, after a period of federal service, the individual could get a “service bonus” that would fund some start-up capital.  Imagine the possibilities if you worked for the federal government in the area of cyber security for a period of, say 5 years, and at the end of that 5 years, you would be eligible to compete for a start-up scholarship, almost like an “exit bonus” for your service to start your own business.

Such initiatives and endeavors would need to be well-publicized to be competitive, but the military and the National Guard have been fairly successful at recruitment in their own areas.

Programs such as these may also sound expensive, but considering the overall expenditures of governments to compete in the military and also in the cybersecurity field, a Cyber National Guard would not be inordinately expensive.

In order to compete with hackers and other governments, the cyber intelligence and threat mitigation tactics of the federal government need to keep up with the private sector, and creating a Cyber National Guard could bridge that gap.

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