Trump creates new cybersecurity competition with a $25,000 award

The competition is part of an executive order aimed at addressing a shortage of cybersecurity workers across the government

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., speaks at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Dirksen, Sept. 25, 2018. In addition to the Trump executive order, Peters backed a bill passed in the Senate last week, that would rotate cybersecurity experts across the federal government. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

The Trump administration announced steps to address a shortage of cybersecurity workers across the federal government, including sponsorship of a national competition and allowing cyber experts to rotate from one agency to another.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Thursday that directed the Department of Homeland Security to work with the Office of Management and Budget to create a rotational program that will “serve as a mechanism for knowledge transfer” across agencies.

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The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, part of DHS, along with OMB and other agencies will also develop an annual cybersecurity competition for federal employees called the President’s Cup Cybersecurity Competition, the order said. The first such challenge will be held in 2019 and will award at least $25,000 to the winner, according to the order.

The steps are intended to address a shortage of as many as 300,000 cybersecurity professionals across the federal government, according to DHS. The efforts are intended to attract cyber experts from private industry to consider working for the government and also assess whether workers currently not working in cybersecurity may have the aptitude and skills to switch jobs.

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The idea of rotating cybersecurity experts across the federal government was also the aim of a bipartisan bill that passed in the Senate last week. The bill, known as the Federal Rotational Cyber Workforce Program Act, was backed by Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and John Hoeven, R-N.D.

Lawmakers have for years urged the DHS to find ways to fill the shortage of cybersecurity workers in the federal government.

Peters, Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I. said the administration’s move was long overdue.

“We have a serious deficit in the number of skilled cyber defenders to protect our critical assets in cyberspace, a deficit compounded by the growing threats we face,” Langevin, a co-founder of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, said in a statement.

The president’s order will help address shortfalls in both the government and private-sector cybersecurity workforce, Langevin said.

But it’s still unclear how well the efforts will succeed, because top administration officials told reporters in a call last week that the order is not backed up by any additional funds for testing, recruiting or holding competitions.

Details of how much more money the effort will need are still being worked out, a senior administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

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