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“Closing the Talent Gap in Federal IT” -- A Model Congressional Hearing!

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By Thomas Gann, Director, Global Public Sector, Government and Policy Group, Intel Corporation

It’s fair to say that the terms “Inspirational” and “Congressional hearing” rarely go together.  Too often hearings focus on the scandal of the day or on arcane or simply boring topics.  But last week, I had the privilege of attending a hearing, managed by Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), on “Closing the Talent Gap in Federal IT” that really was impressive.  Congressman Hurd, Chair of the IT Sub-Committee of the Government Oversight and Reform Committee, and Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL), the senior Democrat on the committee, brought together the right mix of witnesses who all had compelling stories to tell.

We first heard from Dr. Joan Ferrini-Mundy, the Assistant Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) for Education and Human Resources, who discussed the many successes of the Cyber Corps Scholarship-for-Service (SFS) program.  This program is providing cyber education scholarships to Americans seeking to serve their country in the federal civilian government. To date, the SFS program has active cyber security partnerships with 64 academic institutions that have awarded 3,000 scholarships to students.  Roughly 70 percent of these students, once they have completed their studies, have decided to make serving the federal government a long-term career.

Then Scott Montgomery, Intel Security’s Vice President and Chief Technical Strategist, spoke on the skills gap in the cybersecurity ecosystem of companies and governments, and what the government, in collaboration with the private sector, can do to close it.  Scott quoted research from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “Hacking the Skills Gap”, that pointed out that if the demand for cybersecurity professionals continues to outpace the supply of qualified workers—and all the evidence suggests it will—the United States could face a cybersecurity skills deficit of around 1 million workers in the next 5 to 10 years.   To address this challenge, he argued that the Cyber Corps Scholarship-for-Service and Reserve programs are ideal for students looking to pay back their scholarships up-front with two or three years in federal service, and that these programs need to be expanded to enable many more students to benefit from the education for service scholarships.  He also made the case for a new program, a National Cyber Guard, that would give students interested in serving their government while jumpstarting a career in the private sector new scholarship options.   These options would include part-time civil service, much like the current National Guard program. To make this new program really scale, Scott said the private sector needs to step up and expand internships, co-ops, and flexible work schedules to enable employees to actively participate in a National Cyber Guard.

The hearing became even more concrete as we heard real world examples of how tech training is making a difference. Gene Bowman, Executive Director of Alamo Academies, testified on how his technical training program is succeeding.  Since its inception in 2001, over 1,269 graduates have received training in high-wage technical occupations during their junior and senior high school years.  Alamo graduates have gone on to join the Defense Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and many private sector companies.

Emile Cambry, Jr., the Founder/CEO of BLUE1647, a technology innovation center that fosters economic development in technology and 21st Century skills, told members in a most compelling way how his organization has worked with over 10,000 students, many from the inner-city, to help prepare them for careers working for tech companies or other businesses.  Both Gene and Emile inspired me – they roll up their selves every day and directly engage with students to make their lives better and help close critical skills gaps.

The hearing ended with Chairman Hurd, a leader in the area of cyber security, suggesting that Emile and Gene exchange business cards with Scott Montgomery and Dr. Ferrini-Mundy to enable these educational innovators to partner with Intel and the NSF to expand the types of public and private partnerships needed to address our nation’s cybersecurity skills gap.  The business cards changed hands quickly!  Chairman Hurd closed the hearing by talking about the need to expand the CyberCorps Scholarship-for-Service (SFS) program and the benefit of standing up a new National Cyber Guard program.

The hearing was informative, constructive and uplifting. It was both personal – making the right connections – and policy oriented – painting a vison for the future where more and more students can earn much needed cybersecurity scholarships in exchange for flexible forms of government service.  In other words, it was a model of what congressional hearings should be.