- - Monday, July 4, 2016

Each year, the United States falls farther behind in educating K-12 students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). It falls behind in teaching the next generation of technology workers for American companies. And it falls behind in instructing cybersecurity professionals who will help protect our country. This deficiency puts our national security at greater risk. After years of analyzing this challenge, it’s now time for the federal government to act and help address this vulnerability. Congress should invest in the future by providing adequate resources for K-12 computer science education for the next fiscal year, especially in this transition period between presidential administrations.

During the last 20 years, the size and skill level of the technology workforce has not kept pace with the demand for workers. Routinely, American companies and government agencies post more job vacancies than there are qualified candidates to fill them. But this scarcity starts much earlier: Over three-quarters of K-12 schools do not offer computer science classes. And the federal government provides inadequate funding to states and local school districts to support the appropriate and necessary STEM education initiatives.

A skilled workforce will enable American companies to continue to innovate and compete globally. We need capable workers to help businesses design new products, program new mobile technologies, and analyze new data trends. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that almost 5 million jobs will be available in computing and information technology by 2024.

In addition, at a time of increasing cyberthreats and greater complexity in cyberwarfare, the nation also needs skilled cybersecurity. We now require individuals who can design weapons to support U.S. warfighters and provide cyberdefense for our country’s assets. Our cyberstrength relative to that of our nation’s adversaries is too vital to ignore.

And the country’s cyberstrength depends on having the right people performing at every level. This factor is, by many accounts, the area where we are the weakest.

Six years ago, I co-authored a report for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which underscored the national security risks caused by a shortage of cybersecurity workers. We recommended that an effective national cybersecurity strategy should “promote and fund the development of more rigorous curricula in our schools.” To date, Congress has not significantly invested in this effort.

I now lead an organization focused on identifying, recruiting, and placing 10,000 of the best and brightest students for the cybersecurity workforce. The U.S. Cyber Challenge aims to reduce the shortage in the cyber workforce and support our nation in cyberdefense by increasing the number of potential candidates, including high school and college students. But our approach is only a small part of the solution.

The federal government has a responsibility to educate our students beginning in elementary and secondary school. This investment will create a more skilled foundation for the next generation of technology workers and cybersecurity experts. It’s time for Congress to appropriate the necessary, targeted funds to provide STEM education. Our national security depends on it.

• Karen S. Evans, the national director of the U.S. Cyber Challenge. served as the administrator of the Office of Electronic Government and Information Technology at the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush.

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