On the one-year anniversary after its inception, the Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy at the State Department is on track to accomplish its goal of having a trained cyber and digital officer in every U.S. embassy around the world by the end of 2024.

Nathaniel Fick, the State Department’s inaugural ambassador for the cyber bureau said during an April 12 Project for Media and National Security event in Washington, D.C., that his team will “easily” meet that goal by the end of next year.

“We set up a course at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) – the school in Arlington where foreign service is trained,” Fick said. “We have a course now on cyber and digital policy, and a goal of putting a trained cyber and digital officer in every embassy around the world by the end of next year.”

“The demand among foreign service officers for the training in order to go in the portfolio overseas exceeds our ability, which is awesome, it’s great to see,” Fick continued, adding, “I don’t think it comes as a great surprise to a smart foreign service officer that this stuff is going to be more important.”

“It’s going to be increasingly important. If you want to work on the core issues, on the most important things, then this is a pretty good bet,” Fick said of cyber and digital policy. “We had multiple applicants for every seat in our last training at FSI. It was oversubscribed.”

He continued, “We’re doing another one in London next month. We’ll do another one at FSI here in Arlington in August. And at that pace … we will meet our goal – maybe easily – of having a basically trained officer everywhere we need to have one by the end of next year.”

“We’ll have somebody in every embassy globally who has some basic training and understanding of these issues, so that translates out in the world,” Fick said.

During the media roundtable, Fick explained that his organization currently has 115 employees, with “another 30 or so to go.” The National Defense and Authorization Act recently gave his bureau the ability to hire 25 cyber personnel from the private sector.

“We’re making full use of that. I think that we need people with technology experience and expertise, but also people with commercial sensibility,” Fick said.

He explained that the State Department’s Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy is “an effort to integrate and elevate the Department [and] the country’s approach to technology diplomacy.”

“Cybersecurity is a piece of the remit, digital policy is another,” he said. “It’s an attempt to incubate something inside of a bureaucracy that will endure.”

Just yesterday, Fick said, his bureau took “the first step in incentivizing people to seek out these jobs.” They were able to create a skill code in cyber and digital technology for officers. So, if a foreign officer spends a couple years in a technology tour, they can receive credit for that skill on their record.

“The only way this thing succeeds is if we can create the culture and incentives inside the career of the foreign service that make sure that the work is viewed as important and rewarding over the long haul,” Fick said.

“I can imagine a future where every credible candidate to be a chief of mission to every U.S. ambassador anywhere in the world has to have some demonstrated understanding of technology issues and a willingness to engage in them,” he said.

“Somebody give me one area of U.S. diplomacy today where tech isn’t totally infused in it – you can’t practice East Asian diplomacy without tech diplomacy, you can’t do human rights work without tech, you can’t do climate diplomacy around the world without tech – there isn’t one,” Fick said. “You have to infuse it into the culture of the place and reward people for working on it.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.