Career Insights with Upasana Gupta

Real Story Behind Fed IT Security Job Growth

Projections Presume Transfer of Jobs from IT Contractors

Widely publicized reports in recent days aren't telling the full story of an (ISC)2 survey that projects the doubling of the federal government IT security workforce by 2015.

The survey says that the federal payroll of IT security personnel will soar to 61,000 by 2015 from 27,000 in 2010. True, but that's not the full picture. Many of those 61,000 will already be working for the federal government on IT security initiatives, but as contractors, not as employees. The 61,000 figure includes a number of contractors who would be transferred to the federal payroll, says the analyst who provided the projection.

Rob Ayoub is an analyst with Frost & Sullivan, the research firm that conducted the survey for (ISC)2, a not-for-profit IT security education and certification organization. Ayoub says he came up with the employment projection based on interviews he conducted by e-mail with a subset of 145 survey respondents, mostly federal chief information officers and chief information security officers. He says his takeaway from those interviews is that many contractors performing IT security work for the government will be shifted to the federal payroll.

Why make contractors federal employees? Ayoub says the C-level executives he interviewed told him that by moving contractors to the federal payroll, the government would build and maintain a knowledgeable workforce. "Contractors leave with a lot of knowledge and move frequently," he says. "Hiring permanent positions will, therefore, keep that knowledge in-house."

Ayoub wouldn't say how many of the 145 respondents he interviewed to reach his conclusion. The 145 respondents were taken from a much larger pool of 10,000 survey takers Frost & Sullivan polled.

But doubts have been raised whether a significant transfer of personnel from contractors to the federal government can or will occur.

Karen Evans, who served as the de facto federal CIO during the Bush administration, doubted that thousands of contractors would be shifted to the federal payroll. "There is a freeze on federal pay, and there are also now hiring freezes within the government," says Evans, national director of the U.S. Cyber Challenge, a group that encourages young people to consider careers in IT security. "Generally, the contractors shift to the federal payroll due to stability in terms of job security. But the most recent employment statistics, which came out last week, do not show such a shift. In fact, they demonstrate a decrease in all levels of government employment."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week a decline in employment at all levels of government.

Alan Paller, research director at the SANS Institute, an IT security research and education organization, says the powerful IT services industry would use its political clout to prevent any large transfer of contractors to federal payrolls.

The IT services industry servicing the federal government is huge, and the use of federal contractors with IT and other skills has a long history in Washington. For instance, the Department of Homeland Security reported last year that it employs more private contractors than federal employees: roughly 200,000 contractors vs. 188,000 federal employees.

Even without transferring contractors to federal payrolls, the government will increase its IT security workforce. Emerging threats and adoption of technologies such as mobile applications, social media and cloud computing means the government will need an expanded federal IT security workforce. "Technology keeps coming new at us every month," says Hord Tipton, executive director at (ISC)2, and people with the right skills will be needed to protect critical infrastructure and systems.

But many of those serving the government as information security practitioners will not be federal employees. History tells us so.

About the Author

Upasana Gupta

Upasana Gupta

Contributing Editor, CareersInfoSecurity

Upasana Gupta oversees CareersInfoSecurity and shepherds career and leadership coverage for all Information Security Media Group's media properties. She regularly writes on career topics and speaks to senior executives on a wide-range of subjects, including security leadership, privacy, risk management, application security and fraud. She also helps produce podcasts and is instrumental in the global expansion of ISMG websites by recruiting international information security and risk experts to contribute content, including blogs. Upasana previously served as a resource manager focusing on hiring, recruiting and human resources at Icons Inc., an IT security advisory firm affiliated with ISMG. She holds an MBA in human resources from Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield, Iowa.

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