Army and Marines plagued by turnover problem in cyber fields, GAO finds
Stars and Stripes December 29, 2022
More stringent service obligations are needed to ensure that Army and Marine cyber specialists don’t bolt for big private-sector paydays immediately after receiving high-priced training at taxpayer expense, according to a government watchdog agency.
While the Navy and Air Force have instituted three-year service obligations to protect their investment, the Corps and the Army are falling short, the Government Accountability Office said in a report this month.
The report comes amid struggles to keep crucial cyber units fully manned, even as cyberwarfare and network protection have become a top priority for a Defense Department whose tech-savvy adversaries include China and Russia.
“DOD faces increasing competition from the private sector looking to recruit top cyber talent,” the GAO said.
The Army and Marine Corps have the added challenge of trying to retain specialists without giving them clear-cut service obligations.
The Marines struggled the most with staffing gaps. That’s the difference between the number of personnel authorized and the number of personnel staffed.
While most Navy, Army and Air Force cyber career fields were staffed at 80% or higher, four of the six such career fields in the Marine Corps were below 80% of authorized levels in fiscal year 2021.
The Marines also are the only branch without any service obligations after cyber training, which is often over a year long and costs the military hundreds of thousands of dollars per person.
Marine Corps officials told the GAO that the service’s cyber office has requested authority to institute a 54-month active-duty service obligation requirement for personnel in these areas.
However, a Marine official told the GAO that there had been no indication whether the request would be approved and implemented.
Meanwhile, Army Cyber Command officials said that because of bureaucratic confusion, personnel offices lacked relevant information needed to calculate and implement service obligations for various Army cyber courses.
“As a result, officials stated that it is a challenge to hold personnel to general service obligations when they attend (critical cyber) training,” the GAO said.
Army Cyber Command officials said some officers who attended a yearlong course costing hundreds of thousands of dollars left the military soon after completing certification, the GAO said.
The officials said they are working to revise regulations to clearly define a 36-month service obligation for certain training.
The services have taken other steps to try to mitigate the turnover problem, such as retention bonuses, which tallied $160 million in all between 2017 and 2021.
“However, officials have acknowledged that while the military services offer retention bonuses and special pays, they continue to experience challenges retaining qualified cyber personnel,” the GAO said.