Cyberdefenders. Rick Ayers (left) and Julie Evans are graduate students in the federally funded Cyber Corps program at the University of Tulsa.

Congress Expands Cyberfellows Program

In an effort to bolster national cybersecurity, the U.S. government has nearly tripled funding for a training program it hopes will crank out the next generation of computer security experts.

A $29 billion supplemental spending bill signed into law 2 August gives the National Science Foundation (NSF) an additional $19.3 million this year for its Scholarship for Service (SFS) program. The program, begun in 2001, offers 2-year full scholarships for students earning a bachelor's or master's degree in return for at least 2 years of government service. "It's time to be as smart about cybersecurity as we are about cyberspace," says Joseph Bordogna, deputy NSF director.

The scholarships are aimed at filling a years-long shortage of scientists, engineers, and policy professionals in computer security and information assurance. NSF made the first SFS awards in May 2001, which averaged $2.5 million over 4 years, to the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma and five other institutions. Last fall's terrorist attacks convinced Congress to nearly double NSF's current allocation of $11.3 million, which in May funded five more institutions. The program has also awarded more than a dozen "capacity-building" grants to universities to train faculty members at institutions breaking into the field of cybersecurity.

The intent of the 2002 supplemental funding is "to produce more professionals as quickly as possible," explains Norman Fortenberry, head of NSF's division of undergraduate education, which manages the SFS program. A partisan fight between Congress and the White House on broader homeland security issues delayed passage of the funding bill until nearly the end of the current fiscal year and the start of the new academic year. To save time, Fortenberry says NSF is likely to "ask existing grantees" if they could grow larger rather than staging a new competition. The foundation might also consider funding highly ranked proposals that didn't make the earlier cut.

Corey Schou of Idaho State University in Pocatello hopes that his school's proposal, submitted in the hope of a supplemental bill, falls in that category. "The government's need for trained professionals is real," says Schou, who also chairs a national organization of university programs on computer systems security. "We also have a shortage of faculty trained to teach this stuff."

Related site
The SFS program