FBI Mulls Softer Hiring Requirements for Cybersecurity Talent

FBI Mulls Softer Hiring Requirements for Cybersecurity Talent

No organization is exempt from the impact of a tight market for tech talent: In the past year, even US government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security have had trouble recruiting the engineers, hackers, and cybersecurity professionals they need to face emerging cyberthreats. Now, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is reportedly considering relaxing some of its stringent hiring requirements to help bridge that gap. The Associated Press reports on a series of recent speeches by FBI Director James Comey in which he suggested that the bureau is considering lowering some of its barriers to entry for this talent cohort, in order to compete with private sector employers offering higher salaries:

He’s floated the idea of scrapping a requirement that agents who leave the FBI but want to return after two years must re-enroll in the bureau’s storied but arduous Quantico, Virginia, training academy. He’s also lamented, half-jokingly, that otherwise qualified applicants may be discouraged from applying because of a fondness for marijuana. … Comey has suggested the FBI may need to build its own university to groom cyber talent and questioned whether every member of a cyber squad actually needs to be a gun-carrying agent.

“Our minds are open to all of these things because we are seeking a talent – talent in a pool that is increasingly small. So, you’re going to see us experiment with a number of different approaches to this,” Comey said last week at a gathering of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance.

This is not the first time Comey has complained of difficulty in hiring more cyber cops: Back in 2014, he sparked controversy by suggesting that the FBI might need to soften its zero-tolerance policy on marijuana use to hire enough hackers to keep up with the cybercriminals.

The cybersecurity talent shortage is a multifaceted problem, however, and there may be other factors discouraging this cohort from pursuing jobs in the public sector. To fill this shortage, some steps experts have suggested employers must take are to attract more women into the male-dominated field, court younger candidates who do not necessarily have years of experience in it, and get creative about where they source talent. In other words, the cybersecurity shortage is a diversity challenge as much as anything else.

But as Josh Gerstein pointed out at Politico last November, the typical FBI employee is a middle-aged white man with a military background, only 20 percent of the bureau’s workforce is female, and white men make up 67 percent of the FBI and 83 percent of its special agents. In that context, successfully attracting the cyber talent Comey covets may mean more than just relaxing requirements for physical fitness and marksmanship.