It has officially been two years this week since Robert Costello joined the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) as its chief information officer (CIO) and pledged to make workplace culture one of his top priorities.

During Carahsoft’s FedRAMP Headliner Summit on Aug. 23, Costello said he has been able to “dramatically change” the CIO office since he joined the Federal agency in August 2021.

“I came back to government to come back over as a CIO of CISA and it was very clear I took over an organization that was scared of technology, scared of change,” Costello said. “There was a lot to do and if we didn’t get the culture stuff right then all the other stuff doesn’t matter.”

Costello explained that he started two years ago by refocusing CISA’s Office of the CIO – which now sits at 100 Federal employees.

“I made a quick shift to hire very technical, sometimes more senior than had been there before – people that really live and breathe this stuff – and then people that really want to be part of the mission,” he explained. “It was really critical to us to be embedded with our customers, because we’re working with some of the best, and if I’m going to get to their systems, I need really good people to work through that.”

“We need very technically adept Federal employees and people that tend to just know what’s going on,” the CIO said. “Officially it’s been two years this week where we’ve really dramatically changed how the office is viewed. So, now we’re in a place that people from other parts of CISA are asking to come work here, and we’re now doing cutting-edge technology solutions, providing services to the agencies that we weren’t before, so that’s been really gratifying.”

Costello explained that over the last two years, CISA has hit a “crest” in the good work they’re doing and now the cyber agency has to figure out how to keep it going.

Additionally, he said CISA’s FISMA scorecard has gone from “what was pretty much the worst in DHS to either the best or in the running for the best.”

“We’re hitting that crest and really have made some dramatic improvements,” Costello said. “We now understand how to use all our tools …  We’ve put in great improvement. There’s also a pretty big shift in our customer base. They’re trusting us, and I think they’re seeing the difference in how we’re running the organization.”

CISA Director Jen Easterly also announced in a blog post this week that the agency’s workforce has expanded to 3,161 employees, after the agency made more than 1,300 new hires since July 2021.

Easterly boasted that she’s been creating that organizational culture since July 2021 – which is grounded in core values and principles that define “what we expect from each other and what we aspire to be.”

“Much needed to be done, including building an effective human capital machine to hire top-tier talent from across the nation, and just as importantly, building a culture that would attract and retain that elite talent,” Easterly wrote.

“While multiple hiring authorities and hiring flexibilities – including recruitment, relocation, and retention incentives and the new Cyber Talent Management System – allow us to pay a bit more than other places in government, we recognize that no one joins the Federal government to get rich,” she continued, “Rather, they join for mission – an opportunity to serve the nation, ideally doing so with great teammates, inspiring leaders, and an ability to make an impact every day.”

Read More About
More Topics
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.