DISA Vision Guide

Wanted: DISA cyber warriors

This story is part of C4ISRNET's DISA Vision 2017. Check back on Monday for a special multimedia report.

The evolving cyber workforce is a much-discussed issue across the federal government, where agencies are competing with the private sector for professionals with elite cyber skills that can do much more than standard IT. It's not a new problem, but it's one the Defense Information Systems Agency is taking multiple approaches to tackle.

An array of internal and external programs and initiatives at DISA target the elusive pool of cyber warriors who can protect networks, deliver technology to the war fighter, navigate federal bureaucracy and understand acquisition, among other skills. Starting with college internships and outreach programs all the way to in-house training for established, long-term employees, DISA officials are emphasizing their unique mission and workforce.

"Because of [our] dynamic mission, we also need a robust and dynamic workforce to meet those ever-changing missions," said Will Krozner, executive of DISA's Workforce Services and Development Directorate. "So we are focused on providing the tools and the framework for that dynamic and robust workforce so that we can meet those mission requirements. Ultimately for DISA it's all about our ability to support the war fighter directly by providing those services and products so that the war fighter can execute his or her mission downrange."

Troop support on the ground, at sea and in the air takes many shapes and forms, something DISA is targeting in its recruitment and training as well as the internal development of its employees.

"If we start talking about some of the training and development areas, it's not just to those folks that are defending the network but it even extends out to the acquisition community, to our program managers," said Roger Greenwell, DISA authorizing official and chief of cybersecurity. "Everyone is essentially in the cyber hive. We try to focus our training and skill building around all of those different areas. … When we think about cyber and cyber training, it's not just those who you might typically think of as engineers or operators."

Taking a holistic approach to building the agency's cyber workforce is the bottom line, starting with marketing DISA as a choice employer and making job-seekers aware of the benefits of working at DISA. At the top of the list? Interesting, challenging mission sets that draw from a range of disciplines, officials said. 

"We are fighting for that talent that is in very high demand. We have several programs in place to try to seek out that talent, but ultimately it's a competition," Greenwell said. "[The Department of Defense] is working on implementing a cyber-accepted service hiring initiative, which will make hiring cyber professionals in DoD somewhat easier and faster, and we are part of that initiative."

But there's equal emphasis on keeping the talent they've attracted to DISA — no small feat in a highly competitive field like cybersecurity. 

"Retention is something that we're very focused on as well," Krozner said. "We need to make sure we are providing the tools for our workforce not only to want to stay in these fields but to give them interesting work so that they feel valued."

He added that it's critical to ensure employees not only have development opportunities, but also to ensure people understand their contributions to the overall mission.

"Ultimately, at the end of the day, people are looking to enjoy their job," Greenwell said. "They want to have a sense of satisfaction, and a lot of that starts with their management and making sure that management understands their people."

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