Senate Passes Bennet-Portman Measure to Strengthen DHS Cybersecurity Workforce

Uniform Classifications will Help Department Identify and Address Personal Shortages

Washington, DC - As the risk of cyber threats continues to increase, the Senate last night took a step to bolster the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) cybersecurity workforce by passing a bipartisan provision written by U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Rob Portman (R-OH). The Bennet-Portman provision creates a uniform classification system that will help agencies within DHS identify and address cybersecurity personnel shortages.

“In today’s age of innovation, new technologies – and new threats – develop on a daily basis. This breakneck pace means the federal workforce needs to be prepared to meet new challenges and fight new criminals who try to take advantage of any perceived weakness in our cybersecurity,” Bennet said. “This provision provides a uniform framework to ensure that DHS is adequately staffed with qualified people.”

“I applaud the passage of this critical legislation because it will make it easier for the Department of Homeland Security to have world-class, highly-trained cybersecurity employees in place to secure a vast array of sensitive information and support the protection of our critical infrastructure,” said Portman. “This is an important first step and I hope the Senate will now pass our broader, government-wide version of this legislation.”

The provision is based on a bill Bennet and Portman introduced in May to strengthen the cyber security workforces across the federal government. Earlier this year, Portman successfully secured a narrower version of the bill as an amendment during the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee’s consideration of the Department of Homeland Security Workforce Recruitment and Retention Act, which the Senate passed last night.

Over the past several decades, agencies across the federal government have responded to the increasing threats to federal IT systems and infrastructure by hiring personnel that fill each agency’s individual needs. As cybersecurity needs have grown across the government, it has become increasingly clear that there is a need for a uniform system to better educate, recruit, train, develop, and retain a highly-qualified workforce. In 2011, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported on the significant challenges facing federal agencies to determine the size and composition of their cybersecurity workforce because of variations in how the work is defined.

The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) together launched the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), which is working to uniformly classify cybersecurity job functions. This new framework will help agencies assess their current workforce to identify skill shortages, and provide a comprehensive look at the cybersecurity workforce across the entire federal government.

The Bennet-Portman amendment will move the initiative forward by defining specific tasks, milestones, and timelines for agencies to follow, and directing agencies to assess where their cybersecurity workforces are weakest. The bipartisan proposal will help ensure that the necessary agencies are meeting key deadlines and reporting to Congress on time.