Certain challenges – such as national emergencies, large-scale attrition, new mission requirements and the need for new talent – require federal agencies to rapidly grow their workforce. With support from the Democracy Fund, the Partnership for Public Service identified the most effective and widely applicable strategies for surge hiring.

California has the highest number of federal employees outside the Washington, D.C. area, but agencies in the state still face challenges in attracting quality young talent. To address this issue, the Partnership and the James Irvine Foundation wrote a report examining how federal agencies in California can strengthen their talent pipelines by recruiting, hiring and retaining job seekers without a four-year degree.

Read the full report here: https://ourpublicservice.org/publications/doors-ladders/

A more interconnected world leads to more agility and efficiency, but it also opens the door to more cybersecurity threats. Both the public and private sectors are facing enormous cybersecurity challenges that are only going to get bigger and more complicated.

A ClearanceJobs article states that although cybersecurity is the fastest growing field, 51% of companies report a shortage of cybersecurity skills. This can only mean one thing, at least for job seekers: It’s a great time to start a career in cybersecurity.

Many people have misconceptions about what cybersecurity jobs entail. I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me, “oh you must be a good hacker if you are working in cybersecurity.” I mentally roll my eyes, but it’s a reality that not a lot of people understand that cybersecurity is a broad field with many different paths.

This is especially true in the federal landscape. You don’t have to be a hacker, a developer or a computer scientist to land a job in cybersecurity. Even without cyber-related technical training, you could work within the cybersecurity field in positions such as policy analyst, program manager or data scientist.

Even if you don’t have a degree in cybersecurity, you can still pursue a career in the field. I know, because that’s what I did. I studied chemical engineering, but I now work in federal cybersecurity. The position I found didn’t require specialized training or certifications, but I chose to pursue free training within the Defense Acquisition University and the Federal Virtual Training Environment at the Department of Homeland Security.

I also subscribed to newsletters such as ThreatPost and Fifth Domain to familiarize myself with the cybersecurity landscape. And I read the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, which federal agencies use to guide their cybersecurity efforts. 

However, if you’re interested in specific jobs such as ethical hacker, network engineer, vulnerability analyst or penetration tester, you will need specialized training and certifications.

It’s important to understand that cybersecurity threats change constantly and quickly, and certifications are not a guarantee that technologies, processes and techniques employed will provide successful responses to cybersecurity challenges.

The key to pursuing a successful cybersecurity career is to be flexible and willing to adjust course when looking for ways to solve cyber-related problems, while staying focused on the end goal—keeping our nation secure. Just as the threats, technologies and approaches to cybersecurity constantly evolve, so should anyone who works with them.

Michelle Rosa is the president of Young Government Leaders, where she advocates for members of YGL and oversees offerings for young government employees. She is also the host of YGL Radio, a new podcast about innovation in the federal government.

In photo above: Speakers at the “Renewing the Call to Public Service” panel, from left to right: Moderator David Rubenstein, co-founder and co-executive chairman of The Carlyle Group; Penny Pritzker, founder and chairman of PSP Capital Partners and former secretary of the Department of Commerce; Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service; and Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California and former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Our country grapples with tough challenges, but none, I would argue, is more important than how well our government functions. To operate at its most effective, government needs to attract top people to serve at all levels.

In June, I had the opportunity to attend the Aspen Ideas Festival and participate in a panel session called “Renewing the Call to Public Service,” along with esteemed fellow panelists.

Every year, the festival brings together scholars, world leaders, entrepreneurs and others to share their thoughts and ideas on issues.

This year, event hosts welcomed go-getters such as David Brooks, op-ed columnist for The New York Times; Chris Christie, former New Jersey governor and senior legal and political commentator for ABC News; and Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO.

During my session, a co-panelist, Penny Pritzker, said, “It’s extraordinary to be able to serve the American people” by working in government. Pritzker has served in both the public and private sectors—as secretary of the Department of Commerce in the Obama administration and founder and chairman of PSP Capital Partners, among other positions.

Our panel moderator, David Rubenstein, co-founder and co-executive chairman of The Carlyle Group, recalled that Americans “rushed to come into federal service” in the 1960s, following President John F. Kennedy’s famous, “Ask not what your country can do for you” speech.

Yet, the eagerness to serve in government has since ebbed, according to co-panelist Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system and former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Today, students are “interested in addressing global challenges,” yet less interested in “going into government service.”

The question is: Why? Why aren’t people considering government as a career, and how do we change that? I suggested the following:

Highlight the important work federal employees do.

Government provides individuals with an unparalleled opportunity to make a difference. And federal employees do make a difference—every single day.

The American people often don’t know these stories of accomplishment. Even people inside government aren’t always aware of the good work their peers are doing. More stories circulate about government dysfunction than about what government is doing well. It’s no wonder, then, that government has a negative reputation among America’s “most visible employers,” according to the 2019 Axios Harris Poll 100.

I talked about our Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, which highlights federal employees whose remarkable achievements have improved lives in America and around the globe. Publicizing the accomplishments of Arthur Allen, Victoria Brahm and other remarkable public servants, provides a better understanding of the power of government to do great things and, hopefully, leads more people to consider public service.

Improve leadership throughout government.

The biggest complaint federal employees have about their jobs is related to agency leadership, according to our Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® rankings, produced annually with Boston Consulting Group.

Federal employees need skilled and knowledgeable supervisors and permanent—not long-term acting—agency leaders. And they need leaders in the White House and Congress to keep government running. Shutdowns disrupt public services and cause immense harm to the country and federal employees, and they should not be used for political purposes.

Listen to the session.

How the Department of Health and Human Services is bringing in new cyber talent

Janet Vogel is the acting chief information security officer at the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS is one of 12 federal agencies participating in the Cybersecurity Talent Initiative, a first-of-its-kind public private partnership to recruit the nation’s best minds to defend against global cyberattacks. Mastercard, Microsoft, Workday and the Partnership launched the program this month as a call to action for leading companies, federal agencies and higher education institutions to come together and help grow the talent pipeline of cybersecurity technologists to protect the nation and support our digital economy.

We recently spoke with Vogel about the need for cyber talent at HHS and why her agency has decided to participate in the Cybersecurity Talent Initiative.

Partnership: How do cybersecurity professionals contribute to the mission of the Department of Health and Human Services?

Vogel: Cybersecurity professionals at HHS play a big role in protecting the sensitive data of Americans. We have a very big job, and we take it very seriously. HHS has a very diverse set of data, and we need a very diverse and highly technical cybersecurity team to protect that.

From March 2018 to February 2019, HHS has blocked 253 billion attempts at the network perimeter. Over that time, we have addressed over 9,000 threats that required our action. Attack attempts don’t always turn into an incident, but any incident could turn into a breach or a big event.

Partnership: What is the state of the cybersecurity workforce across government and at HHS?

Vogel: The cybersecurity workforce in our department is somewhat reflective of the entire industry. We do have shortages. We do need more people with cybersecurity skills. And there are cybersecurity vacancies across both the government and private sectors.

Cybersecurity is becoming more and more sophisticated because the attacks are increasing in volume and complexity. It seems like every day we learn about a new type of attack method or methodology, and we have to be able to keep up with that and respond very quickly.

At HHS, we also believe that every employee is part of the cybersecurity team and every employee needs to know about cybersecurity. We have a very active education program. We put out training material, have work group sessions, and conduct education campaigns with a new theme each month to try to get everybody aware of their role and what they need to watch for. Every employee is a part of our cybersecurity workforce in one way or another.

Partnership: Why should today’s cybersecurity students consider working for government?

Vogel: Working in the government is a very rewarding experience. This is an area where you can know that you’re making a difference every day. If you’re a student or someone looking to change careers, cybersecurity is a ripe area for anyone who likes a challenge. You have to be good at solving puzzles and doing analysis. If you have an analytical mind, cybersecurity is a great place for you. And you’re needed here.

Partnership: Why did you want HHS to participate in the Cybersecurity Talent Initiative?

Vogel: We want to bring in new, fresh eyes and people with current, contemporary skills. This initiative will allow us to leverage a group that has grown up with technology, and feels it’s just part of their nature. So that will give us a new advantage in the way we look at cyber threats and try to get ahead of them.

This program is going to help us improve our cybersecurity posture, and produce employees with well-rounded cyber skills and practical hands-on experience. 

Partnership: Why do you think it is beneficial to have the public and private sectors working together in the Cybersecurity Talent Initiative?

Vogel: This partnership allows us to learn from one another. Cybersecurity is important to all of us and, working together, we will have a better defense against cyberattacks. This partnership helps strengthen our ability to protect privacy and health data that are held by both the private and public sectors. We want to ensure that both sectors are moving forward together.

On Tuesday, April 9, the Partnership will announce the launch of a new cross-sector initiative to bring cybersecurity talent into the public and private sectors. Visit cybertalentinitiative.org on Tuesday to learn more.

Individuals with STEMM skills play a key role in helping our government fulfill its critical missions and foster America’s global competitiveness. In this report the Partnership looks at how agencies increase their odds of landing the best STEMM talent.

Read the full report here: https://ourpublicservice.org/publications/the-biggest-bang-theory-how-to-get-the-most-out-of-the-competitive-search-for-stemm-talent/

Written by Partnership President and CEO Max Stier and Volcker Alliance President Thomas W. Ross

Forty years ago this month, President Carter signed into law the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. This broad overhaul of the federal personnel management system resulted from a commitment by both parties to make our government more effective for the American people.

As we reflect on that law, we should celebrate its successes, such as its inclusion of the merit system principles that embrace non-discrimination and non-partisanship in the career civil service. These principles establish that federal employees are hired and promoted based on talent, not cronyism.

This is also a time to look forward and, on a bipartisan basis, make a new commitment to creating a modern civil service system.

Today we need IT and cyber specialists to modernize government services and protect our electronic frontier. We need scientists to cure diseases. We need doctors and nurses to provide care to our veterans. We need diplomats to serve in dangerous places and law enforcement officials to bring domestic and international criminals to justice. But the federal hiring process is painfully slow and what the government pays for highly-specialized skills is woefully noncompetitive with the private sector.

Last week, the administration announced plans to create new, flexible hiring and pay systems for cyber, STEM and other talent that has been hard for the government to attract. That’s a great start and can help lead to a broader, bipartisan and much-needed review of how our government recruits, hires and manages talent across all professions. Americans have differing views on what the size of the government should be, but we all agree that our public servants should be skilled and should deliver excellent service to our citizens.

The anniversary of the Civil Service Reform Act is an appropriate time to honor those who have chosen public service and to inspire new people to pursue that same calling.

On college campuses, many students are unaware of the extraordinary career opportunities in government and the enormous sense of satisfaction that can come from dedicating part or all of a career to public service. We can change that; let’s use the 40th anniversary of this landmark law to jump start a new round of civil service modernization for the 21stcentury and a renewed commitment to inspire the next generation to serve.

In the Partnership’s new issue brief, we surveyed, with assistance from the Office of Personnel Management, members of the PMF class of 2011 during their first two to five months on the job to better gauge their expectations for the program and how those met the fellows’ first impressions. The findings reveal some positive aspects of the program and some warning signals that deserve attention.

Read the full report here: https://ourpublicservice.org/publications/the-presidential-management-fellows-program-first-impressions-from-the-class-of-2011/

Charged with protecting the nation’s public health, it’s vital that the FDA meet its scientific staffing needs. This new report examines the agency’s progress in shoring up its key scientific workforce and includes recommendations for how the FDA can improve its recruitment, hiring and retention practices.

Read the full report here: https://ourpublicservice.org/publications/the-state-of-the-fda-workforce/