Rep. Nancy Mace, R.S.C., was lead sponsor of a House-passed bill to limit formal educational requirements for federal cyber workers.

Rep. Nancy Mace, R.S.C., was lead sponsor of a House-passed bill to limit formal educational requirements for federal cyber workers. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

House passes bill to limit education requirements for federal cyber roles

The push for skills-based hiring is already underway in the executive branch, where the Office of Personnel Management is reworking qualification standards for some government jobs.

The House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill Monday meant to limit the requirement of minimum educational attainment for cybersecurity jobs in the federal government.

The bill, backed by Reps. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., and Katie Porter, D-Calif, would clarify that minimum educational requirements for federal cybersecurity jobs can only be set if they are required by law to perform essential duties or if educational attainment “directly reflects the competencies necessary” to do the job. 

If passed into law, the bill would also require the Office of Personnel Management to publish any changes made to the minimum qualification standards it maintains for government jobs — including those in cybersecurity — as well as data on educational attainment in the federal cyber workforce.

“This bill solves a simple problem — you can't deem one applicant more qualified for a federal cybersecurity job solely because he or she has a degree in underwater basket weaving,” Mace said on the House floor on Monday. 

“No part of the federal government should disqualify an individual from winning the competition for a federal job based on whether they have one type of educational credential,” said Porter.

The push to open up the talent pool is happening as the industry continues to grapple with a high demand for cyber professionals. There were over 663,000 open cyber jobs in the U.S. between May 2022 and April 2023, according to Cyberseek, which is backed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. 

Skills-based hiring, which emphasizes the testing of skills for jobs instead of relying on educational attainment or certifications as proxies, has also been a bipartisan focus across recent administrations. 

A Trump administration executive order on skills-based hiring in government is still on the books. The Office of Personnel Management is currently working on updating the qualification standards for certain government jobs, including IT and cyber, a spokesperson recently told Nextgov/FCW.

Skills-based hiring is also a focus of the White House’s National Cyber Workforce and Education Strategy. 

Kemba Walden, acting National Cyber Director, encouraged employers writ large to “reexamine their hiring criteria and descriptions for your technical jobs” in a recent blog.

“Are you requiring a four-year college degree for every position?” she wrote. “Consider changing your position descriptions (PDs) and hiring practices to welcome more applicants and workers with relevant skills and experience from apprenticeships, community college workforce programs, coding bootcamps or online certifications if they meet your needs.”

In addition to its potential impacts on the government’s ability to hire for cybersecurity roles, the bill also has a place in history as the last legislation passed in the House under former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who was ousted from his position on Tuesday.

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.