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New Service Academy Proposal Puts Focus on Building Cyber Workforce

May 13, 2021
By Beverly Cooper

A digital academy similar to service academies would enhance leadership and education in the cyber realm.

Development of a new federal service academy, established to educate a robust digital civil servant workforce, is the recommendation of the AFCEA Cyber Committee in a recent white paper “Establishing a Federal Digital Service Academy.” In echoing the sentiments of various commissions and thought leaders over the past four years, the committee is calling on President Biden to sign an executive order and begin the process

The rationale and need are clear. Today’s unique digital challenges continue to expand with the growing use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. As a result, the importance of formally cultivating an educated leadership, skilled in defending cyberspace and able to operate through the intersection of cyber and infrastructure, is critical. But despite the need to have both leadership and expertise over digital domains, no government academy exists to educate, train and mentor the required workforce, the white paper asserts.

This new U.S. Digital Services Academy would build on the strength of the military academy models, but would be designed to attract individuals not necessarily looking for a military career.

Similarities with service military academies would include a highly competitive admission process and congressional appointments. The students would receive full scholarships in return for a period of national service. Focus would be on the digital sciences but students would receive broad training in other areas to prepare them as informed decision makers.

The main difference between the two academy models is that the Digital Services Academy would eliminate the military commissioning requirements, including physical fitness criteria. The graduates would be GS-7s, although they could also serve in state governments to include the National Guard. The academy would have a path to military commissioning as well, but that would be based on a case-by-case basis and would include stricter physical requirements.

The location of the academy initially could be a hybrid of virtual and physical. It should begin operations near a research university so academy students could engage with researchers and undergraduates and have access to housing and classrooms. In such an environment, the academic academy could begin operation while the physical location is being constructed, according to the recommendations outlined in the white paper.

The idea of a U.S Digital Services Academy is not new, but with a new administration and growing threats, it has taken on more importance. The AFCEA Cyber Committee based many of its recommendations on the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence’s report, released in March 2021, in which the discussion begins on page 43.

The AFCEA White Paper is available along with a variety of additional content in the AFCEA Resource Library.

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