Apparently FBI Director James Comey thinks that everyone in the Information Security Industry is a dope-smoking pothead who gets high just before an interview. “I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals, and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” James Comey was quoted as saying.
Of course two days later, after basically insulting most of the Information Security Industry by calling them all stoners Director Comey said his comments shouldn’t be taken seriously and that he was only trying to inject some humor.
Currently the FBI says that anyone who has used marijuana in the last three years is “not suitable for employment”. In addition you cannot have used other illegal drugs for the previous ten years. So the FBI has already recognized that marijuana is different from other ‘hard’ drugs and now they may be thinking about relaxing those standards even further. Considering that there are twenty-one states where marijuana for medical use is perfectly OK, and two states, Colorado and Washington, where marijuana is legal for recreational use it makes sense for the agency to revisit its anti-drug policy. However, specifically singling out one specific group such as Information Security professionals may not be the best way to attract applicants.
If the FBI wants to review its marijuana policy in light of the recent relaxation of laws in some states for all potential applicants regardless of job function, well that’s great. The overall sentiment towards soft drugs like marijuana is changing and employers, including the FBI, should adjust to that sentiment at the same rate as society. However, to relax standards for just one specific job type sends the wrong message.
The FBI has open head count for over two thousand recruits this year, most of those will be assigned to cyber crime units. The FBI like every other employer in the security industry is having a difficult time attracting qualified applicants for those positions. The US Army has said in the past that it wants to relax physical fitness standards for cyber warriors Relaxing standards for those applicants, as I have argued before, is not the best way to get qualified candidates and sends the wrong message to applicants or current employees who met the old standards.
This is a simple economics question of supply and demand. When the demand is high and the supply is low the price, or in this case the salary, must go up. Artificially increasing the supply by lowering standards helps no one. If the FBI wants to lower standards to increase the pool of applicants how about it take a look at some of the other things that will automatically disqualify job candidates for employment with the FBI. If you failed to register for the selective service, guess what? No FBI job for you, same with defaulting on a government insured student loan. I have to think that the number of qualified candidate who have defaulted on a student loan and or did not register with the Selective Service is probably several times greater than those who light up a joint just before an interview. If the FBI is serious about increasing its applicant pool perhaps it should reexamine those restrictions as well.
The FBI and other government agencies have a lot of strikes against them when attempting to attract highly qualified applicants. Things like a strict dress code, initial assignments to small offices, and government bureaucracy don’t help at all. However, the FBI does have things that other employers can’t offer like an amazing benefits package, stable employment that isn’t subject to market forces and of course the fact that they are the government. There is a distinct subset of people that look at employment in the government and in law enforcement as an attractive option. Perhaps the FBI and other agencies should play up these strengths when recruiting as opposed to reducing standards.
But seriously are people really getting high before interviews, especially at the FBI, as Director Comey even humorously suggests? If someone showed up drunk to an interview I wouldn’t hire them either, let alone if they were stoned out of their mind. I am sure there is some drug use in the Information Security Industry just like there is with the rest of the population but to suggest that infosec people are a bunch of reefer toking stoners who are getting high so much they can’t sober up enough for an interview tells me they aren’t very familiar with the industry they are trying to recruit from.