A top Pentagon official said the military is failing to recruit enough cyber warriors just one day after Syrian hackers claimed that they infiltrated the Army’s official website, causing the site to be taken offline for several hours.
Brad Carson, acting under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said Tuesday that top cyber professionals are often eager to leave the military for the private sector where they have a much higher earning potential.
“I don’t think we are meeting our cyber goals, both with quantity or quality,” Mr. Carson said at a Defense One event at the Ritz Carlton in Pentagon City.
Speaking more broadly about the military’s ability to recruit and retain the top talent, Mr. Carson said he’d like to see the service move to a recruiting system that’s based more on quality and less on quantity. As it stands now, services must meet a specific quota of new recruits every year, but no weight is given to the quality of those recruits.
He also said he’d like to do away with the “up-or-out” promotion schedule of some military specialties. While an infantryman reaches his peak performance in his late 20s or early 30s, some technology professionals may be at the pinnacle of their career in their 40s and 50s. Despite that, the military says they must leave if they aren’t able to promote to the next pay grade.
Mr. Carson suggested that service members be promoted when they hit certain career milestones, like getting a degree, rather than after a set number of years to allow troops more flexibility in their career timeline.
Roy Wallace, the assistance deputy chief of staff for Army G-1, cautioned against catering the promotion and personnel system to fields like cyber, saying that military leaders shouldn’t forget about the infantryman sweating in temperatures well over 100 degrees at a forward operating base in the Middle East, because that skill set is crucial to the nation’s national security too.
“We need cyber guys too, because we need to know where the bad guys are,” he said. “But I also need that infantryman on the ground. It’s a delicate balance as you walk through personnel minefield we have today.”
But Mr. Carson said cyber warriors will soon play a key role in the front lines in the nation’s conflicts.
“The people at the tip of the spear are going to be in these kind of high-tech enabling missions,” he said.
While the military can’t offer compensation in line with tech giants like Google, Mr. Carson said the Defense Department should be paying some troops a more competitive salary. But he also said most who serve don’t do it for the money.
“We have to give them a good mission, we have to give them a sense that we value them, we have a plan for them,” he said. “That’s what I think people are frustrated about.”
He is set to present a plan for reform to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in August, then spend the following year and a half implementing a new personnel system before a new administration takes over in 2017.
While many have different ideas about how the personnel system should be changed, Mr. Carson said no one is saying the 70-year-old system should be left as is.
“The time is long past due. We have a personnel system that is antiquated, that is almost Soviet in its intensity,” he said. “The rules serve a purpose, and have served a purpose, but like many things in a bureaucracy, they’ve outlived their usefulness.”