Now more than ever, cybersecurity is a threat to American elections, military secrets, and national security as a whole. Thus, the need for trained specialists to protect our nation from these kinds of attacks is at an all-time high. However, in spite of these threats, the FBI has been losing highly trained specialists at an astounding rate. In the past five years alone, they have lost 20 cybersecurity leaders to large corporations that promise higher salaries. Although 20 may not seem like a large number, it is a dramatic turnover for the rank, seniority, and expertise that these jobs entail.
In the private sector, senior cyber leaders can easily make more than $300,000 with salaries and benefits combined. In a government job, annual earnings are not even close to this amount. Recent statistics show that the base salary for an Assistant Director in the FBI is short of $200,000. Executive Assistant Directors, who are responsible for leading FBI headquarters branches, also do not make a salary equal to the $200,000 mark. In addition to the base salary, each position allows directors to make up to a $25,000 bonus, which is still more than $75,000 short of the net earnings of a cybersecurity specialist in the private sector. Latest statistics also show that the average pay could be closer to $350,000 for a private sector specialist with a potential to earn as much as $950,000 in a place such as New York. Currently, senior cybersecurity positions are being filled by individuals who are not necessarily trained for the job and lack the innate knowledge that comes with decades of experience in the field.
According to one former senior FBI cyber official, the turnover problem is becoming a real epidemic. In his words, “it is absolutely imperative that the FBI try to retain as many senior leaders as they can, especially due to the current state of how the public and others may view the organization.”
In recent months, four of the twenty high level departures have occurred. These four high-level departures were Scott Smith, the Assistant Director in charge of the FBI’s Cyber Division; Howard Marshall, the Deputy for Smith; David Resch, an Executive Assistant Director for the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch; and Carl Ghattas, Executive Assistant Director of the National Security Branch. Of these top cyber leaders, two left for Caterpillar and the other two left for Accenture, respectively.
When specifically asked about the turnover problem and recent departures, the FBI provided no official response. At this point, only former FBI officials have been reached for comment. POLITICO was able to get in touch with nine former FBI and DOJ supervisors and all expressed a similar idea that the bureau currently faces many challenges in retaining top talent and experienced personnel within its most needed positions. One official even said, “One of the only things the FBI effectively does at the ‘speed of cyber’ is churn through executive leadership.” Austin Berglas, another former FBI official position in the office’s cyber branch, said that the Bureau needs to “reassess its compensation and incentives.” “Even for the most dedicated, the lure of private-sector pay and benefits for young agents with growing families and college-aged children could prove to be destructive to the FBI’s mission over time.”