Inspire a culture of digital transformation, IT modernization, and customer service in every OIT employee through education, training, reskilling, and professional certifications while transforming recruiting efforts to make VA's Office of Information and Technology an employer of choice for next generation IT workers.
VA Earns Second Place in Cybersecurity Competition
The Department of Veterans Affairs Cyber Security Operations Center (VA-CSOC) team demonstrated the Department’s cybersecurity prowess in the Federal Cyber Fire Puzzle Challenge, which was sponsored by the Department of Energy Integrated Joint Cybersecurity Coordination Center. The VA-CSOC team, which included Mr. Ashraf Aziz, Mr. Matthew Benton, Mr. James Brackett, Mr. Allen Butler, Mr. Jesse Hutchinson, Mr. Alvin Nham, Mr. Khristopher Tolbert, and Mr. Sean Thompson, placed second after competing against 14 other teams representing federal and military agencies, including the Army, the Navy, and the Department of Homeland Security. The CSOC team’s achievement in the competition underscored VA’s role as a cybersecurity leader among peer agencies.
The competition challenged teams’ critical thinking on a variety of cybersecurity areas, including “No Code,” steganography, digital forensics, and code breaking. One example codebreaking puzzle included a simple music file with no instructions. After careful deliberation, the team managed to deconstruct the file and found a secret message hidden inside a series of folders with a text file and the answer. Hiding files is a common hacking technique that allows threats to slip through filters undetected, so puzzles like this help train staff to recognize these types of attacks.
The eight-person VA-CSOC team, composed of federal and contract staff, worked together to solve these multi-disciplinary puzzles. Mr. Sean Thompson, VA-CSOC team leader, emphasized that creative and collaborative problem solving was key because no single team member knew everything necessary to complete each challenge. “It takes a lot of different layers and skills for problem solving,” said Mr. Thompson.
“CSOC’s second place finish shows that VA is one of the elite cybersecurity teams in the government, ensuring that Veterans’ data is safe and secure,” said Mr. Paul Cunningham, VA’s Chief Information Security Officer.
The team worked remotely in shifts to tackle the puzzles. As team members rotated, they handed off crucial information-echoing how these and other cybersecurity professionals also handle issues in the real world. As Mr. Thompson explained, “Handing off information is a critical skill in and of itself.”
The team’s success in the competition demonstrates the organization’s ongoing commitment to securing VA’s systems and Veterans’ data.
HCM Puts VA on Radar for Cybersecurity Pros at Job Fair
In OIT, we’ve always understood that Veterans put their trust in VA to keep their data secure, and they depend on us to continuously improve our cybersecurity measures. We’re committed to hiring and retaining dedicated, talented employees who understand this and the constantly evolving cybersecurity landscape.
Representatives from OIT’s Human Capital Management (HCM) office connected with about 900 well-qualified, prospective employees at the annual CyberCorps Scholarship for Service job fair and shared with them the benefits of working for VA and serving Veterans.
HCM’s Ms. Donna Abernathy, Dr. Annette Taylor, Ms. Angela Dural, and Ms. Marixa Duarte, in collaboration with the Human Resource Management and Consulting Service, discussed VA internships and career opportunities with candidates at the Gaylord Resort and National Convention Center at Maryland’s National Harbor.
The HCM team received hundreds of resumes from highly qualified candidates who demonstrated a strong background in cybersecurity. Connecting with these skilled candidates is a win for HCM, helping to ensure OIT continues to streamline its hiring process and fill critical positions more quickly.
The Scholarship for Service program, managed by the National Science Foundation with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, demonstrates the critical need for information technology professionals in federal, state, local, and tribal governments. In return for scholarships, students agree to work in a cybersecurity-related positions for federal, state, local, or tribal government following graduation. Since its inception in 2001, Scholarship for Service has awarded scholarships to more than 35,000 graduate and undergraduate students from 70 institutions.
This job fair is one of many events HCM representatives attend to promote OIT’s mission and vision and recruit a modernized workforce at VA.
OIT’s Reskilling Program Pilot Drives IT Modernization
IT modernization is one important key to enabling our top priority: improving the customer experience for our Veterans. We’re well underway with efforts like electronic health record modernization, telehealth expansion, and the new VA.gov, but this IT modernization isn’t just about systems and technology — it’s about people.
In its article, “Looking Inward for Talent: Retraining Employees for Tomorrow’s Jobs,” the Partnership for Public Service recognized VA’s novel approach to reskilling and upskilling current OIT employees to meet the Department’s IT modernization challenges today.
Started in 2018, this effort centered on an evaluation of the existing IT landscape and a forecast for technical and digital shifts in the IT field. VA also conducted a workforce study to forecast and assess the supply and demand for specific skills and roles. This assessment identified changing roles based on shifting agency priorities, increased demand for skills, and effective workforce strategies that address these challenges.
Reskilling employees allows VA to provide the level of care and services that Veterans have earned, but in new ways — similar to the customer experiences Veterans have come to expect from the latest technology, health care, and banking organizations in the private sector. Reskilling our employees is a critical component of the Department’s wider modernization efforts and it will enable VA to effectively navigate the ever-changing IT landscape.