Cybersecurity bill: Recruit federal employees using 9th grade talent competition

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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In order to defend against a looming cyber 9/11, the federal government may soon hold talent contests to foster the cybersecurity skills of 9th graders, and hold cybersecurity summer camps for kindergartners.

The Cybersecurity Act of 2012, in addition to allowing the federal government to regulate the security standards of private infrastructure networks, contains within it provisions to develop the cybersecurity skills of America’s youth.

Section 403 of the bill calls for the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of Commerce to establish cybersecurity talent competitions for students as young as the 9th grade, in order to identify and recruit for employment in the federal government.

“Our schools have a hard time teaching students math, but they want to teach them about ethical hacking,” a Republican Senate staffer told TheDC.

But talent competitions are not the only way Democrats hope to fend off cyber attacks on America’s critical infrastructure.

In Section 402 of the bill, they also plan to hold “summer enrichment programs,” or summer camps, “with a goal of increasing cybersecurity skills in students enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12.” The summer camps are “to be provided by nonprofit organizations” with the encouragement and support of the Director of the National Science Foundation. Some students would also be eligible to attend the summer camps at no cost.

The bill — currently being developed by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC) — was reintroduced by the bill’s sponsors Thursday, who claim that compromises were made in order to generate support for the bill from Republican opponents.

The bill’s sponsors include Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, Republican Ranking Member Susan Collins, Democratic Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, Democratic Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, and Democratic Federal Financial Management Subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama have also recently thrown their weight behind the bill.

Republican opponents of the bill are, however, critical of the regulatory regime the bill would place over private networks. Republican critics, including Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, are also upset that Reid has not followed the regular legislative process with the bill.

In a speech on the Senate floor Monday, McCain heavily criticized Reid for prioritizing passage of the cyber bill — which he deemed “flawed” and “controversial” — over a vote on the defense budget. McCain also criticized Reid for not following the regular legislative process by attempting to pass the bill without it . The bill’s supporters, however, argue that it is time to pass the legislation because the security risks are too great to wait any longer.

A press conference was held Tuesday by the bill’s sponsors, who contend that it has been in the works for several years, to discuss their revisions.

HSGAC did not respond to TheDC’s request for comment by the time of publication.

Update:  Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC) spokesperson Leslie Phillips told TheDC in an email statement, “The nation is experiencing a shortage of people with the skills necessary to build out our cyber capabilities, which means a shortage of people to support our cybersecurity efforts.”

“The national security of the country  depends upon building a workforce skilled in this area, and that education should begin at the beginning, just like reading and writing does,” said Phillips.

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