One of the realizations of post-COVID life is how much national security work can be done outside of the National Capital Region. What has been an idea for a time is now a reality – thousands of workers, even those in critical roles supporting the government, are now working remotely, taking advantage of shift schedules, and participating in flexible work options. There is one state uniquely poised to take advantage of that fact, and also actively working to promote its existing workforce and advance national security careers in the region – West Virginia.
A recent virtual forum hosted by the Discover Real West Virginia (DRWV) Foundation, The West Virginia Public Education Collaborative, and West Virginia Forward. The event brought together government and business leaders to discuss cybersecurity, technology advancement, and how to attract and retain a quality high-tech workforce to address current challenges.
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin III, honorary chair, DRWV Foundation, discussed the ongoing work to keep West Virginia competitive for government and attractive to workers. Katie Arrington, chief information security officer for the Under
Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment updated on the Pentagon’s cybersecurity priorities, including changes to the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation (DFAR), making cybersecurity foundational to every contract.
Contractors on new awards will have to attest to how they’re controlling the 110 controls of the National Industrial Security Program (NISP), noted Arrington. “It’s creating an entirely new pathway and segment of work,” she noted.
“We have 300,000 companies in the defense industrial base who have to get certified in five years – it’s an incredible new workforce of individuals,” said Arrington, noting that anyone who has served in the military will be an ideal for these new cyber auditing positions.
Security Clearances and Government Cyber Workers
A panel focused on the security clearance process and how it affects national security hiring in the region. Employers in the state noted that security clearance processing delays can affect their ability to attract and retain workers, but progress has been made in recent years. Officials from the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency said both facility and personnel security processing continue to move forward despite COVID-19. And while clearance processing times remain slightly higher than the goal, they are vastly improved over prior 500+ day figures for a Top Secret security clearance investigation. And while there has been significant improvement, defense officials noted that even more changes would come – tantamount to a ‘sea change in vetting’ – particularly when it comes to maintaining a cleared position.
Preparing to Attract the Next Generation of Cyber Talent
The final two panels of the virtual forum focused on building the talent pipeline and equipping employers to address cyber challenges. There are 44 colleges dispersed throughout West Virginia, and addressing the cyber challenges of today and into the future will require activating that pipeline of potential – both cyber and tech graduates, and those with potential who might not yet have even considered the career.
The threats only continue to grow, and while the cyber challenges faced today may seem new, Arrington emphasized the advent of cyber isn’t much different than the invention of fire – when humanity had to harness the power it had created, and find safeguards for the risks.
“When man invented cyber, he had to learn the rules of risk associated with touching the technology,” said Arrington. That’s what today’s cyber professionals – in new and emerging career fields, sometimes in positions that didn’t even exist a year or two ago – are doing today.
Within a stone’s throw of the nation’s capital, West Virginia is well equipped to continue to attract more talent, and more contracting opportunities in cyber and advanced technology. With a lower cost of living and a qualified workforce, defense contractors moving to secure remote work environments may increasingly find themselves moving West – where they’re Wild, Wonderful – and Wired.