MITRE Wins Grand Prize in GEAR Center Challenge for Neurodiversity in Cybersecurity

Awarded Honorable Mention for Blockchain Proposal

McLean, Va. and Bedford, Mass., September 10, 2019—For the federal government, access to cybersecurity talent is not just a requirement, it is a matter of national security.  At the same time, there is an underutilized population of talented adults with skillsets that are well-suited for portions of this work. That’s why MITRE plans to launch a pilot program with the federal government to hire and retain neurodiverse adults, including those with autism.

The idea has earned MITRE one of three grand prize recognitions and a $300,000 award in the Office of Management and Budget and General ServiceAdministration’s (GSA) GEAR Center Challenge, a competition to solve the government’s toughest management challenges.MITRE plans to partner with an advisory group, including Drexel University, Mercyhurst University, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Maryland, College Park, SAP, Specialisterne, and the DXC Dandelion Program, to launch a pilot program to help the federal government identify, train, and promote candidates on the autism spectrum. 

After selecting a federal agency to work with, MITRE’s proposal calls for a workforce program to include management and co-worker training, and the creation of career and social development programs to prepare candidates.

“Attracting and retaining technical talent, especially those with cybersecurity skills, is a key management challenge for the U.S. government, states and the private sector, as well,” said James Cook, MITRE vice president for strategic engagement and partnerships. “MITRE and its partners developed an approach to activate an untapped talent pool that leverages leading practices and tools that have been adopted by the private sector and non-governmental organizations to tackle this persistent problem. We look forward to partnering with a government agency to pilot the program.”

Earlier this year, MITRE launched an initiative to mainstream neurodiversity hiring and employment practices at the company, also focused on cybersecurity work. The program recently hired its first two college co-ops and will continue to scale, informing the federal pilot.

"Cybersecurity is a role-oriented discipline requiring logic, curiosity, ability to solve problems and find patterns through micro-focused attention,” said Tara Cunningham, CEO, Specialisterne, which specializes in neurodiverse tech hiring and is one of the pilot’s partners. “Although autistic and other neurodiverse people are strong across all disciplines, for many, cybersecurity is a natural fit."  

The GEAR Center Challenge is a competition to solicit proposals to solve the federal government’s toughest management problems while collaborating with the private sector, academia, and the public. The GEAR Center’s mission to deliver improved services and use of public resources by addressing operational and strategic challenges is a key priority for the federal government 

A second MITRE submission, an idea to use blockchain technology to streamline the federal grants management process, received an honorable mention in the GEAR Center Challenge. (Read more.)


MITRE’s mission-driven teams are dedicated to solving problems for a safer world. Through our public-private partnerships and federally funded R&D centers, we work across government to tackle challenges to the safety, stability, and well-being of our nation.

Editor’s Note:

In 2018, MITRE released the Symposium on the Federal Workforce for the 21st Century Report, highlighting nine recommendations across talent acquisition and development, performance management and compensation, and civil service reform to address workforce challenges. The report followed a symposium held by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and MITRE, with more than 150 leaders and workforce experts from the private sector, academia, federal and state agencies, and other organizations from across the country.