January 14

Executive Spotlight: Cedric Sims, SVP for Booz Allen Hamilton


Cedric Sims, a senior vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton, recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz for the publication’s latest Executive Spotlight interview detailing the significant challenges facing DHS in the cybersecurity space as well as its new Cyber Talent Management System, civilian and local government security obstacles, privacy standards in artificial intelligence and more.

“Our ability to build partnerships and capabilities that can support local communities is key. We will need systems and architectures that can be implemented by state and local entities. Being able to work together in a more holistic fashion to address these challenges will be the success that lies ahead of us.”

You can read the full Executive Spotlight with Cedric Sims below:

ExecutiveBiz: What would you say are the most significant challenges facing DHS in terms of strategic growth in the cybersecurity space as well as the modernization of the acquisition risk management process, program governance and systems engineering to help deliver DHS’ mission objectives.

“There are a number of challenges that are currently in the cyber domain. Some of the largest are the efforts to establish more effective coordination across most of the senior functions in our federal government. We’ve got several senior cyber leaders just in the executive branch alone. The good fortune is that many of them have had prior government service.

I think we’re at a very special time where we have senior leaders like Jen Easterly, Chris Inglis and Eric Goldstein leading some very significant cyber programs within the government.

The challenges center around a few different things. One aspect is with these various roles and responsibilities, there’s a need to synchronize engagement plans and concepts and strategies to ultimately bring a national cyber agenda to bear against the threats that we’re dealing with in our cyber practices and roles.

That’s probably one of the most significant challenges we have: bringing this whole community together to address cyber from a national perspective rather than the individual agency responsibilities.

More specifically, the need to transition from an advisory role to more of an active participant in addressing these challenges. The common defense of cyber is really where that main pivot needs to happen. And so, the constructs around the architectures, tools and the approaches will continue to evolve as the nature of the threat evolves.

However, the impact is going to come as CISA exercises its full authority, not just as an advisory organization, but also as a co-defendant in this fight that we are all a part of. CISA is an instrument of our national power.

Our capability to defend the homeland, with CISA’s leadership, can continue to evolve the mission. I’m seeing more evidence that they’re taking full control of that responsibility and properly exercising it.”

ExecutiveBiz: What can you tell us about DHS’ new Cyber Talent Management System and how it will impact hiring and career development standards within the department and others?

“This is a really exciting topic because it digs into something that’s really critical. It’s all about our people, our talent and how we prosecute these missions. The intangibles always come down to the people and this is one of the first new personnel functions that is available to the federal government in decades.

DHS’ Cyber Talent Management System is the establishment of the first cybersecurity service within the federal government. We see evidence that it will streamline hiring for talent and offer competitive compensation – which might run counter to the interest of industry that is competing for the same talent. Honestly, it benefits all of us because the talent challenge is going to be there for all of us.

We want to make sure that we have comparable talent addressing these deep challenges that we have in this complex space. We also see evidence that there will be tailored career development for these folks taking on this career path. Even aspects like streamlining the application process make the ability to serve in the government more accessible.

As someone who spent a large portion of my career in federal service, the ability to attract the best and the brightest into federal service supports all of us because we’re all working collectively on complex national security problems.

I want to applaud DHS Chief Human Resources Officer Angela Bailey and her team. This is a very difficult challenge to take on and they were able to build the right coalition through a complex federal system and ultimately to bring this to fruition. Angela and her team have done an outstanding job.

A significant aspect of training is the degree of training. What is sufficient and what are the skills needed for the kind of work that needs to be addressed? Another part is to ask to what degree are we taking our talent and helping them continue to grow in terms of their impact across the course of their career? What is the scope and the complexity of the problems that they are solving?

We’re starting to see even within our own organization, as well as within the government, there’s a greater flexibility in being able to accept relevant training against labor requirements. This allows more flexibility for those that may take non-traditional paths in their education and their long-term career growth. This opens cyber career fields to more diverse talent as we continue to build and reach out to everyone that has an interest or a purpose in helping us fight this fight.

From that standpoint, I think training is a key aspect to allow us to open our aperture and to reach more diverse talent. I think that’s an exciting part of the training. We have a lot of prospects that have skills that don’t fit into the traditional studies in computer science, cyber, and engineering.

They can bring orthogonal perspectives that can help us think about the problem differently and contribute in unique ways that we build our capabilities. Being able to train talent from non-traditional career paths will be another way that we can accelerate capability and capacity.”

ExecutiveBiz: What are some of the most important changes that we need to make to ensure the well being to address the biggest challenges facing our national security in the civilian and local government sectors? What can you tell us about Booz Allen’s work with your customers to address their public service missions?

“I think that the challenge is interesting about local governments. If you think about it, they’re dealing with the same challenges we are on a national stage, probably with the fraction of the resources to address them. If you think about our broader national security challenges, we’re seeing evidence of local governments being attacked.

There’s a large discussion right now around the rise of domestic terrorism in the United States. Local governments likely don’t have the capacity to address these threats, yet they are key participants in helping us identify those threats and risks.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen the proliferation of ransomware and malware. It affects everything from hospitals to schools, in addition to clear evidence of the efforts to attack our broader national platforms. Of course, national disasters and the pandemic are a factor as well as the impact of climate change. We’re still developing a deeper understanding, whether it be interconnected supply chains or the cost of lumber.

Our ability to build partnerships and capabilities that can support local communities is key. We will need systems and architectures that can be implemented by state and local entities. Being able to work together in a more holistic fashion to address these challenges will be the success that lies ahead of us.”

ExecutiveBiz: How will we need to adjust our national policies as well as our privacy and ethical standards to address AI’s impact on the global economy as the world’s nations continue the race for superiority in AI technology and others such as DevSecOps?

“How many things can we say about AI? Some are saying that AI is driving, what many consider to be, the fourth industrial revolution. I’m sure that we don’t even understand the magnitude of what AI is capable of and its impact on policies and regulations. We’re talking about ethical standards and privacy. This velocity is causing us to continue to evolve our thinking about AI.

I want to emphasize that this discussion on AI, it really is a journey. It’s not a technology, it’s not a solution. It’s not a one-time event. We’re all on a journey together. The ethical aspect is tricky because we’re in a global economy.

When we talk about issues like core ethical principles around AI, such focus will drive governance and adoption. This will continue to be an evolving discussion. In the meantime, when you think about specific use cases and applications, we need not be so broad that we can’t come to a place where we can actually find solutions or be able to leverage the full power of AI.

I think that in order for us to get to what we’re intending, we must narrow our focus rather than trying to solve all of the various ethical problems that could come from AI. Let’s take specific use cases and work those to some impact. Accountability is also going to be tricky.

The whole construct around responsible AI is a key thing that we’re looking at within Booz Allen Hamilton; to understand how it impacts the fabric of an organization. Some are looking at AI as a kind of general-purpose technology. We also need to consider how we understand the technology and how it’s evolving.

My point around this is the whole construct around AI ethics can get so broad that we can get lost in the ether. If we really want to have an impact and be able to guide AI to its best application, we should address specific use cases. And then, look and see what kind of governance, regulation, and policy will help us put boundaries that provide the intended protection for the best use in the ethical application of AI.”



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