Essential Texans IV: Deep in the Heart of Texas Cybersecurity Image

by Texas Public Employees Association | June 21, 2021

Essential Texans IV: Deep in the Heart of Texas Cybersecurity

When the State of Texas employs its own cyber and information security experts, taxpayers save a pretty penny. The “warm fuzzy feeling” that Victoriano Casas III and others get as state employees can’t be exchanged as payment in the private sector.

“The beautiful thing about cybersecurity is that I can go to Chase Bank. I can go to Freebirds. I can go to McDonald’s. I can go to HEB. All of these folks have a cybersecurity program,” explains Victoriano Casas III. Since landing his first job — Information Security Analyst at the Texas State Comptroller’s Office — two decades ago, Casas has worked at five state agencies and universities. He then worked in the private sector, where he easily doubled his income. When we interviewed this former Deloitte advisor, he sounded like he never fell out of love with his first flame, serving the people of Texas. Coming of age during 9/11, he yearned to serve his country. His boss reminded him of the work only he was doing for the Texas public.

Casas is back serving our state. He’s the Chief Information Security Officer at the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR). He assembled a “Texas Cybersecurity dream team,” recruiting colleague-friends from state agencies and the private sector. As chairman of an interagency Security Solutions Group, he oversees “uber protected” data centers that keep Texans’ personal data secure. He cannot boast the same for every other state or private sector entity. While working as a consultant, Casas assessed the cybersecurity protocols of clients all over the country. “[Many organizations] were still back in the early 2000s, where they were just building their policies,” he reveals, “It was nice for me, as a Texan, to point back to the Great State and say, ‘Just go to our [Texas state agency or university] website… It’s copy and paste stuff.’”

As state services moved online in the pandemic, Texas’ cyberinfrastructure mattered (and delivered) more than ever. At the sight of the first outbreaks of COVID-19, information security employees scrambled. Casas called it an overnight rush: “Machines are leaving [state offices]. Is the data encrypted? Do we have the proper VPNs and licenses?” Amanda Crawford, Executive Director of the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR), saw how the Texas Health and Human Services Commission quickly dedicated a page to COVID-19. DIR followed suit. Employees knew agencies and local governments would turn to DIR, the internet provider for state agencies, to keep services online for Texans. In this defining moment, DIR became an instrumental part of everything from contact tracing apps to an electronic disease system essential to saving Texans’ lives.

On a given day, state employees block billions of cyberattacks against Texas. We shouldn’t forget they were essential long before the pandemic.

To understand Texas’ investment in cyberinfrastructure, look to its state employment: According to a Government Salaries Explorer, there are just shy of 100 state employees with cybersecurity in their job title. That’s not counting the state employees who work in information security or analysis, like Victoriano Casas III. There are also the supportive, administrative, and related roles surrounding them.

Lisa Jammer worked for human resources departments in the private and public sectors. She joined DIR to serve the state in a familiar position as Director of People and Culture. Jammer finds a frequent partner in Endi Silva, who employs her skills as a former theatre major to translate from “tech to layman to legislative speak” in her role as Director of Program Development. They foster a workplace culture that sounds closer to one parodied on the show Silicon Valley than anything from Parks and Recreation or The West Wing. There are coffee chats and book talks and fun, internal, crowdsourced newsletters. DIR sounds like an enjoyable place to work. This might make up for the pay cut that comes with state employment, but not always. Exit interviews attest that highly technical employees value the workplace culture. These Essential Texans easily work anywhere else.

Texas’ cybersecurity apparatus kept our state services alive in this pandemic. It continues to keep our data safe, but only with the proper staffing. When enthusiastic public servants like Casas try to convince their colleagues to work for the Lone Star State, pensions matter. Job security matters. Workplace culture matters. Texas gets what it pays for.

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