Cover: Employee Conversions to the Cyber Excepted Service

Employee Conversions to the Cyber Excepted Service

Assessing Factors and Characteristics Related to Personnel Conversion Decisions

Published Aug 2, 2021

by David Knapp, Sina Beaghley, Karen Schwindt, Daniel Schwam

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Research Questions

  1. Which factors are associated with employee conversion to the CES?
  2. Which factors are associated with employees deciding not to convert to the CES?

In 2016, Congress created the Cyber Excepted Service (CES), which granted the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) flexibilities in setting compensation aimed at supporting the recruitment and retention of personnel critical to the DoD cyber mission. The CES is a distinct personnel system within the federal government and initially was primarily composed of employees voluntarily converting from other personnel systems.

Despite limited differences between the competitive service and the CES, a substantial number of employees expressed some concerns and uncertainty regarding converting to the newly created CES, and more than a third of those eligible did not convert. In this report, researchers analyze the characteristics of both employees that choose to convert and employees that choose not to convert to the Cyber Excepted Service. Researchers use these findings to offer recommendations aimed at promoting informed CES conversion decisions for organizations, such as the Army and Air Force Cyber Commands, that will convert to the CES in future.

Key Findings

Subject-matter experts in Cyber Excepted Service organizations reported that employees had a set of common concerns

  • Employees expressed concern that they lacked information on such issues as the targeted local market supplement amount, interchange agreements to allow applications to non-CES jobs at different organizations, and who approves individual flexible pay settings.
  • Employees also were uncertain about how the CES would affect their particular career path.
  • Some civilians conflated the CES with other excepted services that make it easier to hire — and fire — employees.
  • Subject-matter experts reported hearing that administrative and human resources staff were worried about stovepiping into cyber-related jobs and that employees near retirement were less concerned about CES benefits as they felt those benefits would not apply to them.
  • Subject-matter experts observed that younger workers and workers in cyber-related career paths were more likely to convert to the CES.

Quantitative analysis showed different results from experts' observations

  • Occupation (cyber or program management) is the only factor that is consistently associated with CES conversion.
  • Relationships between gender and CES conversion and prior military service and CES conversion are directionally consistent across the organizations, but they are typically not statistically different from zero.
  • Being a Marines Forces Cyber Command or Navy Fleet Cyber Command civilian in San Diego is significantly associated with not converting to the CES, but there is no statistically significant difference associated with other locations.
  • Other factors perceived to be important by experts, such as age, tenure, and retirement eligibility, were not associated with CES conversion.


  • Distribute statistics about past conversion rates to cyber workforce subject-matter experts aimed at correcting misperceptions about the characteristics of who does and does not convert to the CES.
  • Provide targeted outreach for non-cyber workers, the only group that consistently did not convert to the CES.
  • In larger organizations, conduct specific outreach to subgroups of workers, such as employees at smaller satellite locations or employees in lower grades.
  • Collect, analyze, and distribute data on post–conversion window outcomes for CES converters relative to non-converters to demonstrate any observable consequences of converting.

The research reported here was sponsored by the Deputy Chief Information Officer for Cybersecurity and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center and the Cyber and Intelligence Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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