Low salaries, background checks hinder FBI’s cybersecurity recruitment

The FBI cannot compete with the private sector when it comes to attracting top cybersecurity talent, according to a new FBI OIG report.

The FBI’s Next Generation Cyber Initiative is facing financial roadblocks.

In the wake of FBI Director James Comey’s July 8 testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence — in which he emphasized that the agency’s ability to battle encryption has never been more critical — a report released Thursday by the FBI Office of the Inspector General indicates the bureau is failing to meet some projections in its flagship effort to bolster cybersecurity.

The NGCI was launched in 2011 on the heels of an OIG audit that addressed the FBI’s preparedness for a national cybersecurity threat. It set staunch expectations for establishing cyber superiority: Lawmakers appropriated $314 million to 1,333 new personnel to staff cyber task forces at 56 field offices around the U.S., and additional funds were devoted to developing new training programs.

Although the report acknowledged the FBI has made progress, it said the bureau has failed to meet a number of important benchmarks. It didn’t fill 52 of the 134 computer scientist positions it was authorized to create. Critically, five of the field offices did not even have one computer scientist.


The reasons for this, the report claims, are not complex: The pay doesn’t cut it.

“The recruitment and retention of cyber personnel is an ongoing challenge for the FBI … private sector entities are able to offer technically trained, cyber professionals higher salaries than the FBI can offer,” the report stated.

The report also cited the FBI’s exhaustive background check system as prohibitive for many qualified candidates.

“[T]he FBI loses a significant number of people who may be interested because of the FBI’s extensive background check process and other requirements, such as all employees must be United States citizens and must not have used marijuana in the past 3 years, and cannot have used any other illegal drug in the past 10 years,” it says.

These factors result in an exaggerated “funneling process,” where recruitment events that attract scores of applicants result in piecemeal job offers.


“[T]he process may start with a recruitment event attended by 5,000 interested candidates, [but] the inability of candidates to meet the FBI’s specific eligibility criteria reduces that number to approximately 2,000 eligible candidates,” the report reads. “Subsequently … only about 2 candidates out of such a group are actually hired by the FBI.”

In a response to the audit, Joseph M. Demarest, associate executive assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch, defended the bureau’s efforts and assured that the FBI would continue working diligently toward arraying a fully manned cybersecurity division.

“The FBI will continue to develop creative strategies for recruiting, hiring and retaining highly skilled cyber professionals,” he said.

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