It was announced today that Rob Joyce, the nation’s “Cyber Czar” was leaving the National Security Council and returning to his home agency, the NSA. Joyce, by all accounts a respected and capable subject matter expert, was a detailee, which to everyone outside of the metro DC area is a fancy way of saying he was on loan from the NSA. His one year tour having been stretched to 15 months.
The cybersecurity commentariat is, as it is wont to do, alive with chatter about whether or not this White House cares enough about the issue of cybersecurity to find a replacement. If they do, who would even consider taking the job?
So here is the question: If the President called you today, would you? Would you take the job?
There are some very good reasons to say “no,” not the least of which is politics. Your politics may not be the President’s and if we’re being honest, if you can’t see eye-to-eye – or at least in the general direction – of your boss, there is really no point. This isn’t a comment on this President or anyone who has ever sat in the Oval Office, merely a recognition that policymaking is a team sport and the President is the coach.
Having said that, if the phone were to ring, you have some compelling reasons to not let it go to voicemail….
- Duty. The overall guiding principle behind government service is that it’s service. You suborn your personal desires and wants to contribute to something greater than yourself. This entails sacrifice, on many levels, for the good of the country and her citizens. No one says “thank you for your service,” when they find out you work at Microsoft (no offense).
- There is no substitute for the kind of experience you get working at the highest levels in government. Do you get to see how the sausage is made? You certainly do. Do you acquire a whole new level of appreciation for what goes into truly strategic decision-making? Absolutely. Are your preconceived notions dispelled in a violent and prejudicial manner? You can’t even imagine. This is the definition of “once in a lifetime opportunity.”
- You have a chance to put your mark on efforts that have an impact both nationally and internationally. Have you ever complained about some bone-headed decision made by officials you knew had no idea what they were talking about? Have you ever said, “this sort of thing wouldn’t happen if they had people who knew their s*** in these jobs?” Well, you know your s***, and here is them offering you the job.
Now let’s be realistic: even if you take the job, our nation’s ability to defend itself in cyberspace, or effectively employ the tools at its disposal to fight back against foreign aggression, is unlikely to change in anything but an incremental manner. Absent the kind of event that forces the government to act with sufficient vigor – Pearl Harbor (actual), 9/11/01, the Stamp Act – cybersecurity, cybercrime, and cyberwar are just not something that has priority when there is national security, transnational crime, and shooting wars going on. Even when they do, the result is often suboptimal (see TSA). Your legacy will not being stopping the APTs or bringing an end to ransomware, it will be to leave the nation a little bit smarter and a little more capable than it was before you got there.
Or you can keep sending snarky tweets and see where that gets us.