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DHS to hire 600 cyber professionals

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The Department of Homeland Security is following through on recommendations to hire at least 600 cybersecurity experts, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday.

Speaking at a Washington Post cybersecurity forum, Napolitano said the department is looking to hire cyber experts, analysts, IT specialists and people who are familiar with coding.

In June, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano directed a newly formed CyberSkills task force to develop recommendations for growing DHS’s cyber workforce and expanding the pipeline of cyber talent nationwide, which includes hiring at least 600 cyber professionals.

Napolitano said DHS has increased its workforce by 600 percent over the last few years, and she praised President Obama’s budgetary backing of the department’s cybersecurity efforts.

However, similiar efforts have been underway for the past few years to hire cyber professionals, James Lewis, senior fellow and program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said on a separate panel. “So, what’s going on?”

One issue, the report identified, is that DHS has not properly identified the skills needed to defend against threats, making it difficult to hire people with those skills. To keep pace with the growing threat, DHS has relied heavily on contractors, “leaving fewer of these sought-after positions open to federal employees,” the report said.

“We’ve probably gone from about five miles an hour to 85 miles an hour at DHS in the last three or so years,” Napolitano said.  ”We need to be at 120 miles an hour, and I would say that across the federal government.”

Napolitano wouldn’t discuss the starting salaries of DHS cyber experts but joked that there are not signing bonuses.

Overall, she said the government needs to improve real-time information sharing with the private sector and there needs to be better widespread adoption of cybersecurity best practices for critical infrastructure. She said most sectors have adopted adequate cyber practices, but in an interconnected world if there is one weak link everyone is affected.

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Joe Stack, Janet Napolitano and the definition of terrorism

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Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano was on the Diane Rehm show earlier this week. Part of the interview focused on Joe Stack, the man who flew his small plane into the IRS building Austin, and Napolitano — who clearly wanted to avoid calling Stack a terrorist — offered a slightly odd definition of terrorism.

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Mule Skinner Blues

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Terror wears a bonnet...

The new face of terror?

Say what you will about the Transportation Security Administration, at least they’re being thorough this time. CNN says TSA is requiring some colonial reenactors at an Easton, Pa., historical park to undergo background checks and apply for a Transportation Worker Identification Credential card.

These mule skinners regularly guide two mules named Hank and George as they pull a boat down a two-mile canal at the Hugh Moore Historical Park. Usually only transportation workers such as longshoremen or truck drives are required to apply for TWIC cards, but since the mule skinners hold Coast Guard credentials to operate the canal boat, TSA says they need a TWIC card as well.

Park officials say that’s ridiculous, since the boat travels at 2 miles an hour at best and is an unlikely terror target. They also say TWIC cards will cost the park $100 apiece. And Congress is starting to take notice: Rep. Charles Dent, R-Pa., grilled new Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano about the mule skinners at a hearing on Wednesday. Napolitano said TSA would try to be flexible.

‘Now Hank and George, while sometimes are ornery, they are not terrorists,’ Dent said.

But maybe that’s just what they want us to think…

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Chertoff weighs in on priorities at DHS

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Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff sat down with reporters from Federal Times this morning to share his thoughts on the transition, the department’s big programs, and its progress over the last six years.

Chertoff gave high marks to the Obama administration’s secretary-designate, Janet Napolitano; he’s known Napolitano for more than a decade, and praised her management style. He also outlined what he saw as the most immediate priorities for the department under the new administration:

  1. Finish implementing the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which requires all travelers to show a passport when entering the United States, even citizens returning from countries like Canada and Mexico; WHTI was a recommendation of the 9/11 commission,
  2. Creating a 2010 budget for the department,
  3. Researching and deploying the next generation of nuclear and biological weapons detectors.

Hopefully we’ll have video of the interview to post later today — check back this afternoon!

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Tracking the transition: Homeland security picks

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Hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving weekend! (Back to reality, now.)

A quick heads-up: The president-elect will hold his fourth news conference in a week at 10:40 this morning. He’ll announce his national security team, which is expected to include Sen. Hillary Clinton at State and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano at the Homeland Security Department.

Both have received strong praise from experts and colleagues — and their management styles are profiled in this week’s Federal Times.

We’ll have a full rundown of Obama’s national security picks after the press conference.

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Tracking the transition: DHS

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Note: We’ll continue to update this thread as the president-elect reveals his plans for the Homeland Security Department.

Secretary

President-elect Barack Obama has reportedly offered the job to Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano.

The president-elect has reportedly picked Napolitano to head the Homeland Security Department.

The president-elect has reportedly picked Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to head DHS.

Napolitano still has to be vetted by Obama’s transition team; a spokesperson for the Arizona governor’s office declined to comment on the selection.

She would take over a five-year-old agency that is plagued by organizational problems and struggles with many of its core missions, particularly immigration. The department has spent billions on a still-unproven “virtual fence” along the Mexican border; unions say it hasn’t properly trained thousands of new hires at the Border Patrol; and Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been criticized for its high-profile, police-style roundups of illegal immigrants at workplaces.

In an interview this summer, Clark Kent Ervin — a homeland security scholar at the Aspen Institute and now a member of Obama’s transition team — said fixing immigration should be a top priority for the new secretary. That may help to explain Obama’s choice: a governor from a border state who’s won praise for her immigration efforts.

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