DHS chief: Cyber workforce sprint will be department’s 'most significant hiring initiative' in history

The head of the Department of Homeland Security kicked off the agency’s cybersecurity workforce “sprint” today, framing it as an ambitious effort to increase diversity and prepare the government for emerging threats.

“We’re extraordinarily energetic about this effort and we intend to execute the most significant hiring initiative the Department of Homeland Security has undertaken in its history,” said Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas at a virtual event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

DHS houses several of the nation’s top cybersecurity agencies, most notably the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, and the U.S. Secret Service, which investigates financial and cyber-related crimes in addition to providing protective services to the president and other dignitaries. Other DHS agencies such as the U.S. Coast Guard have significant cybersecurity responsibilities as well.

If the cybersecurity hiring spree proves to be DHS’s most significant hiring initiative, it would be quite a feat. The Department was formed less than 20 years ago, and already has more than 240,000 employees in its ranks, according to figures provided by DHS.

Much of that hiring will likely fall under CISA, which was established less than three years ago but is already taking up the mantle as one of the U.S.’s top domestic-focused cybersecurity agencies. CISA's original mandate was to defend government networks and critical infrastructure from cybercriminals and nation-state hackers, but lawmakers across both parties have called for an expanded role for the agency in recent months, due in large part to the SolarWinds attack.

For example, John Katko (R., New York), the top republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said in March that CISA needed a $5 billion increase to its budget so it could act as a “quarterback” for the federal government on cybersecurity. Such legislation would more than double the agency’s current budget. 

Although Mayorkas did not specify the roles the department was looking to fill, he said the initiative would be wide-reaching. “We’re going to be recruiting talent that is already developed, we’re going to be helping develop that talent that is just about to bloom, and we’re going to be investing in the seeds to grow the talent of the future,” he said.

Mayorkas’ comments came during an event that was initially focused on efforts to stop and defend against ransomware attacks, which was the subject of DHS’s first cybersecurity-focused “sprint” and is still ongoing. That issue is one of the department’s “most significant priorities” because of its immediacy and the seriousness of the damage it’s causing.

“Ransomware isn’t the threat of tomorrow, it’s already upon us,” Mayorkas said.

Adam Janofsky

Adam Janofsky is the founding editor-in-chief of The Record by Recorded Future. He previously was the cybersecurity and privacy reporter for Protocol, and prior to that covered cybersecurity, AI, and other emerging technology for The Wall Street Journal.

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