The Department of the Air Force is seeking to bring more workers into the Cyber Excepted Service (CES) to increasingly recruit and retain civilian cyber professionals, the department’s chief information officer (CIO) said this week.

The Department of Defense (DoD) CES personnel management system is an enterprise-wide approach for managing civilian cyber professionals across the DoD. It offers the department more flexibility in the recruitment, retention, and development of cyber professionals across the DoD enterprise.

“It is important that we have a ready, skilled, resilient workforce. And how do we do that? … a talent management strategy,” Air Force CIO Venice Goodwine said during the DAFITC 2023 conference. “On the civilian side, what we’ve done is [CES]. We implemented it last year and we’re now trying to make sure that we get more of our civilians into CES.”

Goodwine explained that one of the challenges that the department has faced in trying to recruit cyber talent is competing with the private sector.

“Everyone is looking for cyber experts, and in the private sector, they’re well compensated,” Goodwine said, adding that bringing civilians into CES is one way that the Air Force will ensure that it can compete with the salaries in industry.

In addition to recruitment challenges the Air Force also faces retention challenges in building out its cyber workforce. To bolster its cyber workforce, the service branch has established options for personnel who wish to return to public service after they have left to join the private sector.

“It’s one thing to hire you. But I want to keep you,” Goodwine said. “I know as civilians we often come, we start our job, and we want to do our 30 years and retire … I want to make a way for you to come back and not to lose what you’ve already contributed. So, let’s rethink how we do talent management. That’s our goal,” Goodwine said.

The Air Force’s push to increase recruitment and retention of civilian cyber professionals comes as the DoD has announced departmentwide efforts to build a resilient cyber workforce. The Pentagon’s cyber workforce spans at least 150,000 military and civilian positions but currently suffers from a 25 percent vacancy rate.

Earlier this month, the DoD released a new cyber workforce implementation plan outlining a foundation for the DoD to successfully execute the objectives and initiatives aligned with the Cyber Workforce Strategy released back in March.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.