The FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden in December contains provisions authorizing the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to establish a Cyber and Digital Service Academy. The Academy will provide scholarships for up to five years to university students in cyber-related programs to cover tuition, books, lab fees, and other expenses in exchange for equivalent years of service in a civilian DoD position focused on digital technology and cybersecurity.
The measure is designed to strengthen DoD’s cyber workforce by helping train and attract cybersecurity professionals to careers in the defense sector. The proposal originated from a recommendation made by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, whose February 2021 report identified the government’s tech talent deficit as a threat to national security, and called for establishment of “a new Digital Service Academy and civilian National Reserve to grow tech talent with the same seriousness of purpose that we grow military officers.”
Congress asked its Government Accountability Office (GAO) to assess the need, and GAO endorsed the concept in its November 2021 report, while warning that difficulty authorizing new FTE positions, lengthy hiring processes, and non-competitive pay scales could create hurdles to retaining cyber talent.
Rather than creating the physical equivalent of West Point or the other service academies, legislation was crafted with bipartisan support that leverages university cyber-programs to create a “virtual” academy, which sponsors hope will provide as many as 500 graduates a year to assist DoD with cybersecurity, IT modernization, and service delivery innovations.
The new program supplements the DoD’s Cyber Training Academy, which provides cyber training and certifications to active DoD service members, and other federal cyber workforce initiatives, such as the National Science Foundation’s Scholarship for Service (CyberCorps) program, in which undergraduates commit to up to three years of government service in exchange for free tuition and a $25,000 annual stipend.
DoD has not yet released implementation plans for the new Cyber and Digital Service Academy, and is likely to proceed slowly until Congress appropriates money to support the NDAA authorization.
For more information, see:
- Final Report of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (March 2021) – https://www.nscai.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Full-Report-Digital-1.pdf
- Digital Services: Considerations for a Federal Academy to Develop a Pipeline of Digital Staff, Gov’t Accountability Office (Nov. 2021) – https://www.gao.gov/assets/720/717658.pdf
- CyberCorps (NSF) – https://beta.nsf.gov/funding/opportunities/cybercorps-scholarship-service-sfs-0
- Cyber Training Academy (DoD) – https://www.dcita.edu/