When pressure mounted to secure the southern border in 2005, the Bush administration announced that it would double the number of Border Patrol agents posted there.
Similarly, as voices in Congress raised up two years ago to demand that the nation do more to secure government computer networks, the Obama administration announced that the Department of Homeland Security would hire 1,000 computer security experts.
That surge has apparently fizzled.
Philip R. Reitinger, deputy undersecretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate at DHS, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that the new goal is to hire 400 by October 2012. Their numbers currently stand at 260.
The need to ramp up the DHS’ cybersecurity expertise may become more acute after the White House in May proposed expanding the department’s responsibilities to oversee both the dot.gov and dot.com domains. Committee Chairman Sen. Joe Liebermann, I-Conn., said that proposal is in line with legislation his committee has been working on.
“One important area of agreement is the recognition that the Department of Homeland Security must be given the job of protecting the dot.gov and dot.com domains. In other words, DHS will be the new sheriff in cyber town that we need,” he said.
Whether the department will have the human resources needed to be that sheriff remains to be seen.
Reitinger said 260 workers is a significant improvement. During the Bush administration, there were only 30 cybersecurity experts in the department, he said.
“We have built a significant team with significant capabilities that brings a lot to the table,” Reitinger testified. DHS can also leverage the expertise found in the Departments of Commerce, Justice and Defense, as well as the private sector, he said.
The difficulty DHS has had hiring network security professionals should not be surprising. They are in high demand everywhere and there is a paucity of qualified applicants in the work force, said Roger W. Cressey, senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton.
“There is not a talent pool out there sitting on the sidelines waiting to be called in,” he told National Defense. “The reason DHS fell short is that there aren’t that many people out there right now.”