The United States Coast Guard wants to model its new cybersecurity-specific positions after the agency’s diving program, with officials saying they would rather take their time to select the best people for the job than invest hundreds of thousands of dollars on the wrong candidate.
Earlier this year, the agency rolled out a new “cyber mission specialist” rating as well as a chief warrant officer that is expected to be available to the workforce some time in 2023. The positions come with a salary at the E-5 level (the highest level of compensation for enlisted members, between $2,500 and $3,600 a month) and will “continue to serve in critical positions within [Coast Guard] Cyber Command, US Cyber Command, [the] Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Areas, Districts, and Sectors, and elsewhere as required” according to a Feb. 25 notice.
Applicants with E-4 status who are advancement eligible are qualified to apply regardless of their rating, while “new recruits and less senior members interested in pursuing the cyber rating will be encouraged to build expertise and credentials to make them attractive applicants in the future.” They must also be eligible for a top-secret security clearance and undergo a counterintelligence polygraph examination.
Adm. Karl Schultz, U.S. Coast Guard commandant, told House lawmakers in a Thursday hearing that despite the urgent need for cyber professionals, they plan to take their time to ensure they’re selecting the right candidates.
“We’re going to take a model like we did with the dive program, so we’re not going to take a young American off the street and send you right into training to be a cyber specialist,” Schultz said during testimony to the House Appropriations Committee on the Coast Guard’s 2023 budget request. “We’re going to take Coast Guardsman who have risen in the ranks to E-5. The investments we make in the cyber workforce is to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, so we want to make those investments judiciously.”
Developing maritime OT and IT-specific cybersecurity expertise and fielding deployable cyber teams that can interoperate with the Department of Defense and other federal entities are both major priorities listed in the agency’s cyber strategic plan. Those forces “will stand ready to augment field commanders with subject matter expertise, assessment, and incident response capabilities, as well as critical infrastructure support in the identification and mitigation of cyber risk,” according to the plan.
Snagging one of the newly created ratings is expected to be a competitive affair. According to the Coast Guard, at launch there were around 260 enlisted billets reserved for cyber mission specialists, with another 20 billets reserved for warrant officers. Last year, 93 people applied for just 42 available posts, many of them special assignments.
In addition to the new positions, Schultz indicated that further help could be on the way as the service is busy cultivating its pipeline of cyber talent in other ways. He noted that the U.S. Coast Guard Academy is set to graduate its first class of cybersecurity majors on May 19, though they will likely need some seasoning before heading out into the field.
“We’ll get them some cyber exposure, we’ll send them out to our sector commands where they will bring their programmatic expertise to the field. We’ll send the balance of those young Coast Guard cyber professionals…some will go to sea, some will go sectors, maybe go into cyber,” he said.