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DHS Gets Green Light to Hire 1,000 'Cyberspecialists'

DHS Gets Green Light to Hire 1,000 'Cyberspecialists'

Max Cacas | FederalNewsRadio and The Associated Press

October 02, 2009

Never let it be said that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano doesn’t know how to kick off National CyberSecurity Awareness Month.

“I’m pleased to announce today that we’ve been given direct authority to hire up to 1,000 additional cyberspecialists within the Department of Homeland Security, to assist, and make our efforts more robust and vibrant than they are right now.”

The secretary’s announcement on Thursday marked the start of the 6th annual National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, which reflects the White House goal to draw more public attention to the need for everyday computer users to exercise more diligence in protecting their online security. Napolitano was one of several keynote speakers at a launch event held at the Reagan International Trade Center.

She said the hiring plan reflects the Obama administration’s commitment to improving cyber security. The move gives DHS officials far greater flexibility to hire whom they want, outside of more stringent federal guidelines. And it will also allow more latitude in pay.

As a result, Napolitano told an audience of cyber industry professionals, the new rules “will allow us to be competitive with you all” in luring quality applicants.

Much of the funding already has been budgeted, but DHS also is working with Congress for more money. Officials refused to say how much money the program would represent.

The hiring push also underscores the administration’s ongoing struggle to better organize and manage the country’s vulnerable digital defense. President Obama vowed in February to tackle cyber issues, but still has not named a cyber coordinator, a job that experts say will be difficult to fill.

Napolitano said her department does not anticipate filling all 1,000 positions, which will include cyber analysts, developers and engineers who can detect, investigate and deter cyber attacks.

The announcement follows a wave of cyber attacks on federal agencies, including a July assault that knocked government Web sites off the Internet and earlier intrusions into the country’s electrical grid.

In other comments, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn said the Pentagon expects to make decisions in the coming weeks on whether to relax restrictions on the use of external computer flash drives and social media Web sites by members of the military and department employees.

The Pentagon banned the use of flash drives last November because of a virus threat officials detected on Defense Department networks.

Lynn told Federal News Radio that while the Pentagon expects to “stand up” the Defense Department’s ‘Cybercommand’ this Fall, no one has yet been named to head the new unit.

Chris Painter, the White House National Security Staff’s Acting Senior Director for Cybersecurity, said that the administration continues to review candidates for the position of cybersecurity coordinator, and that no announcement is imminent.

Associated Press Writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

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