Bipartisan lawmakers push for White House cybersecurity director

Jul 16, 2020
In The News

Lawmakers from both parties want the White House to appoint a national cybersecurity director two years after the position was eliminated by the Trump administration, The Hill reported Thursday.

The growing support came after an uptick in cyberattacks against everything from hospitals to research groups to federal agencies during the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, and as Congress looks to bolster federal cybersecurity.

In the latest high-profile incident, a number of Twitter accounts, including those of former Vice President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama, were hacked Wednesday in what appeared to be a bitcoin scam.

“A national cyber director would better protect the country in cyberspace, and we must make sure we are prepared for and can respond effectively to cybersecurity incidents of national consequence,” Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) told The Hill on Wednesday.

Langevin and a small group of bipartisan House members introduced legislation last month to create a Senate-confirmed position of national cybersecurity director at the White House.

The director would serve as the president’s adviser on cybersecurity and other emerging technology issues, and the official would work to coordinate cybersecurity issues between agencies.

The position of White House cybersecurity coordinator, previously held by Rob Joyce, was cut in 2018 by former national security adviser John Bolton to decrease bureaucracy after the position was created under the Obama administration.

The decision led to bipartisan pushback on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers saying someone was needed to oversee national efforts to thwart such attacks, especially as more Americans move online.

The 2019 Worldwide Threats Assessment compiled by former Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats listed cybersecurity as the top global threat.

Coats said nearly every foreign adversary would try to undermine American policies through cyberattacks and influence operations.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee held a Wednesday hearing on the issue, with committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) throwing her support behind the bill.

“A challenge as complex and pervasive as cybersecurity requires that our government be strategic, organized, and ready,” Maloney said during the hearing. “Democrats and Republicans agree we need a national cyber director to ensure we are fully prepared for, and coordinated in, our response to cyberattacks as our nation fights this silent war.”

The legislation was introduced after the position of a national cyber director was proposed in a report from the Cyberspace Solarium Commission published in March.

The commission was established by Congress and is made up of members, federal officials, and industry bigs, who were to issue recommendations to defend the US from cyber attacks.

Langevin and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) are members of the commission, with Gallagher serving as co-chair alongside Sen. Angus King (I-Maine).

Gallagher is also a co-sponsor of the legislation to create a cyber director position, and testified to the committee on Wednesday that the director would likely need at least 75 new staffers and a budget of between $10 million and $15 million.

Committee ranking member James Comer (R-Ky.) and other committee Republicans expressed support for the position, but were cautious about creating more bureaucracy at the federal level.

“We cannot afford to introduce inefficiencies or bureaucratic hurdles to the government’s ability to respond to a national cybersecurity incident in real time,” Comer said. “I want to ensure that we are not fostering redundant efforts across the cybersecurity sector.”

But Gallagher and former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) testified that the need for a central figure at the White House to coordinate cybersecurity issues superseded concerns about excess, The Hill reported.

“We in Congress must sufficiently enable the federal government to create a sufficient cybersecurity plan,” Gallagher said. “When we fight, we will fight with all elements as one single, concentrated effort.”

While the bill has not been proposed in the Senate, Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said he backed the idea.

Langevin said that while he and other sponsors were “reaching out” to the Trump administration for feedback, none was forthcoming.