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Law school to add joint concentration on government procurement and cybersecurity

Eric Lee | Staff Photographer
Karen Thornton, the director of the Government Procurement Law Program, said she worked with the Office of Sustainability to plan the first ever sustainable solutions competition.

Updated: April 28, 2020 at 8:54 p.m.

GW Law is adding a concentration in government procurement and cybersecurity to the master of studies in law program this fall.

The new combined concentration in the MSL program, created in 2018 to give non-attorney professionals knowledge of law without earning a law degree, will give graduates a technology background they can apply to government procurement, the formal process of government agencies purchasing goods and services. Officials said the new combined concentration will help meet the demand for professionals with knowledge in both fields for careers in the private and public sectors like government contracting for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Karen Thornton, the director of the government procurement law program and an adviser to the government procurements and cybersecurity program, said officials created the new concentration as a response to student interest in the subjects.

She said officials realized that a number of students in the program were already in a field at the “cross section” of cybersecurity and national security issues related to artificial intelligence and cyber.

The program currently offers nine concentrations for students on topics like business and finance, health care and environmental and energy studies. The program currently has separate concentrations in government procurement and cybersecurity, but Thornton said the new program will add the option for students to specialize in both.

She said administrators developed the concentration to meet new rules and regulations about cybersecurity and government procurement that Congress set in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, which creates new responsibilities for government agencies to work with certain private companies to implement cybersecurity protections.

“We want to train the folks who will be best able to interpret those new rules, help their companies or agencies implement them,” Thornton said.

She said administrators will not create new courses for the curriculum or hire faculty members for the new concentration, and students will take existing courses in cybersecurity and government procurement like law in cyberspace and formation of government contracts.

“It’s a marriage of existing courses,” Thornton said.

She said adjunct faculty will teach higher-level courses, like counterintelligence and federal grants law, through scenarios and case studies from their own work outside of GW, and full-time faculty will teach foundational courses, like an overview of government contracts and cybersecurity law and policy.

Thornton said students will graduate from the program into a “rich” job market as skilled leaders in the intersection of government procurements and cybersecurity, heading into jobs at federal agencies or companies like Lockheed Martin.

“So that means when they are graduating, they are anticipating challenges, they are clear communicators, they are trusted as bridge builders across different areas of specialization,” she said.

Lisa Schenck, the associate dean of academic affairs and an adviser to the government procurements and cybersecurity program, said the program is designed for professionals already working in national security and cybersecurity at organizations like the Department of Defense who want to advance their knowledge, but program graduates without prior experience will have job opportunities in those fields as well.

“If I worked in a federal agency and I wanted to get an expertise in law so that I could communicate with the lawyers, the general counsel’s office, I would seek to get this degree,” Schenck said.

Schenck said the program is unique to GW because students learn from professors who actively practice what they’re teaching. None of GW’s 12 peer schools offer a similar program.

“We’ve got folks from the CIA who were in the general counsel’s office for 30 years teaching crisis and legal controversy,” Schenck said. “The person teaching technology foundations in cybersecurity was at the defense intelligence agency for many years.”

Experts in cybersecurity and national security said the combined government procurements and cybersecurity concentration is not common across universities, but there is a demand for specialists trained in both fields.

Kevin Powers, the director of the Master of Science cybersecurity policy and governance program at Boston College, said this type of program is not common, but the joint concentration would make careers in the private and government sector available to students in the program.

“I think you would be well set up to be working in jobs within the government, whether it’s the Department of Defense, Department of Justice and all the different agencies that would put you in a good place to come on board as a contracting officer,” Powers said.

He said the concentration is especially helpful now that there are new cybersecurity standards and regulations around contracting and purchasing of goods and services. Powers said government agencies and private companies will need specialists able to interpret these new regulations.

“You’re going to need lawyers taking the courses who are getting a mastering degree focusing on contracting, or if it’s an individual who is not a lawyer but they work in contracting, whether for the government or their working government contractors, I think it would be helpful,” Powers said.

William Banks, a professor emeritus of law at Syracuse University, said cyber-based masters programs are popular, but the combined program of cybersecurity and government procurement is “a real niche.”

“There is, and will be for the future, a need for cyber-trained professionals who know something about the legal system,” he said in an email.

Banks said the program can be additionally beneficial to students because of how uncommon the combination of cybersecurity and government procurement is in the law school setting.

“Students are advantaged by the relative uniqueness of the program,” he said. “In addition, they combine skills in the cyber domain with some knowledge of how cyber operations are impacted by law.”

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