Scholarship program would help Georgia rise to meet cybersecurity threat

In the face of ever-evolving attacks from our adversaries, we must strengthen our cyber defense capabilities.

 

I’m proud that Georgia – with the United States Army Cyber Center of Excellence and NSA Georgia Army Command moving to Fort Gordon in Augusta – is on the front lines of our country’s cyber defense.

My predecessor in the U.S. Senate, former Sen. Saxby Chambliss, worked tirelessly to make Georgia a leader in this area. Earlier this year, Gov. Nathan Deal announced plans to build the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center in Augusta, further enhancing the effort. This will boost our state’s cyber workforce and help modernize cybersecurity technology for both public and private entities. As we strengthen our cyber defense capabilities, it is crucial that we also expand support for related education programs that train tomorrow’s cyber warriors.

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The Department of Defense currently has a scholarship program for students studying cybersecurity fields and commit to working at the DOD in cybersecurity upon graduation. However, employment gaps still exist.

U.S. Cyber Command is working to fill its ranks. Eventually, there will be 133 offensive and defensive cyber teams to make up a force of 6,200 people. At present, only 27 percent of these teams have reached full operational capability.

It’s clear we need to expand and reinvigorate this existing scholarship program to both meet demand and deal with this as a vital national security issue. As Augusta University President Dr. Brooks Keel put it, doing so “will empower students to consider this career path with less worry of educational debt and help universities to provide more high-impact cybersecurity leaders to the DOD workforce.”

That’s why both Sen. Johnny Isakson and I are taking action in the Senate.

Working together, a bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats is pushing to expand the pool of cybersecurity students qualified for the scholarship program. Those enrolled in two-year programs, and those studying for associate’s degrees pertaining to cybersecurity, should be brought into the fold.

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Our proposal – the DOD Cyber Scholarship Program Act of 2017 – reinvigorates this scholarship program with increased funds and expands eligibility to students earning degrees at some community colleges. Scholarship recipients must be earning degrees from institutions deemed as Centers of Academic Excellence by both the National Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

This will have a direct impact here in the Peach State. Seven in-state universities – Armstrong State, Augusta University, Columbus State, Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State, Middle Georgia State and North Georgia – are CAE-designated.

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This will be a win for Georgia, and would create more opportunities for students at those universities. More broadly, it would provide a critical boost to cybersecurity workforce development and our overall national security.

In a time of gridlock and dysfunction, bipartisan efforts like these are a refreshing reminder of our shared commitment to protecting Americans and creating opportunity.

Our adversaries have already proved they are committed to using cyberwarfare to attack both our economy and national security. We must be prepared, and Georgia’s efforts will help ensure we are ready to respond to this new, rapidly emerging threat.

(Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., is the only Fortune 500 CEO in Congress and is a member of the Armed Services Committee.)

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