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Homeland Security

Cyber stands up civilian career field, mulls direct commissioning

By Sean Kimmons February 10, 2017

WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- Army cyber leaders announced a new career management program for civilians Wednesday, as well as plans to study a direct commissioning pilot to recruit talented people into the emerging domain.

Cyber units may someday get uniformed officers through a direct commissioning program, which would allow qualified civilians to bypass prerequisites. Last week, the Defense Department directed all military services to research the idea and submit a report on their findings by 2020 as to whether to implement a pilot program.

"Much like what we do with lawyers, doctors and other career fields for the Army, DOD has now asked us to do a pilot program by service … looking at skill sets that we can bring on direct commissioning into the cyber career field," said Brig. Gen. Patricia Frost, director of cyber for the Army's G-3/5/7.

A civilian cyberspace-effects career program for current and future government workers was also rolled out in January. This comes after Army leaders largely focused on growing the uniformed cyber force, which included last year's decision to move 29-series electronic warfare Soldiers into cyber's 17-series career field by the end of fiscal year 2018.

"We were very excited to see this because for two years of town halls that I supported, this always came up," Frost said at a media roundtable inside the Pentagon.

The new career management program better charts professional development for civilians and would allow them to move within the cyber enterprise, according to the general.

Instead of waiting for their sister services to create this type of program, Frost said the Army decided to do it after seeing such a high demand. "We'll see if the other services do something similar," she said.

Also recognizing the unique contributions of civilians, cyber leaders believe there's a desire for those in the private sector to join the Army's officer ranks.

"I think there are some indications that there's an appetite amongst industry to be able to do this," said Brig. Gen. J.P. McGee, the Army Cyber Command's deputy commander for operations.

Direct commissioning would be a totally new recruiting tool for cyber, and it's still too early to know how many would actually sign up. But the interest is there, McGee said, pointing to recent success with Defense Digital Service, which launched "Hack the Army" competition in December.

"That's something we just started and I think it's already starting to deliver promising results," he said at the roundtable about the service's first-ever bug-bounty contest.

Independent researchers found more than 120 vulnerabilities, most of them minor, on select Army networks during the contest in which 180 people competed. More than $19,000 in bounty was paid to the researchers, with $3,000 being the largest bounty, McGee said.

"It's just a great example of us opening ourselves up to private industry and allowing them to help us see our networks and some vulnerabilities that we probably wouldn't have seen," he said.

More discussion is needed, Frost said, to determine which skills to target under the direct commissioning program.

Whether it's software design, code writing or another skill, she noted that the program could help add expertise to the cyber force that may be difficult to grow in current military training.

"What type of a skill set are you looking for in private industry that you may not be producing internally?" she asked. "[And] where do you go to recruit that audience from?"

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