Congressional Oversight Maze Stalls Cybersecurity: McCaul

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By Daniel R. Stoller

Nov. 30 — A patchwork of congressional oversight of the Department of Homeland Security may limit U.S. effectiveness to combat cybersecurity threats. It’s problem that the new presidential administration will be faced with among increasing calls for government action on cybersecurity.

The recent Mirai botnet attack and other major cybersecurity incidents across the U.S. have made cybersecurity a top priority for the DHS. There have been calls from President-elect Donald Trump and influential congressmen to increase cybersecurity funding and initiatives across the government. The increase in cybersecurity attention may be a boon for federal security contractors that may capitalize on the threat to the U.S.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said at a Nov. 30 briefing that congressional committee jurisdiction issues are holding back legislation that would simplify and improve oversight of the DHS.

There are 10 House committees that share oversight jurisdiction of the DHS. The overlapping congressional jurisdiction is holding up major cybersecurity measures, such as H.R. 5390 that would create an agency within the DHS to lead cybersecurity and critical infrastructure policy and operations in the U.S.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, also speaking at the briefing, agreed that congressional jurisdiction issues are holding up legislation that would help the DHS better handle cybersecurity risks. “Cybersecurity needs to be dealt with on a bipartisan basis” and important bills shouldn’t be held up for purely political reasons, Johnson said.

The two homeland security stalwarts met Nov. 30, along with former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), at the Bipartisan Policy Center for a briefing on national security issues.

Cybersecurity is definitely a problem that the new presidential administration will be faced with, but nobody on the panel would hazard a guess as to whom President-elect Donald Trump will nominate to lead the DHS.

Advice for Next DHS Chief

McCaul, who also serves as an adviser to the Trump transition team on national security issues, has been floated as a possible choice for the next DHS Secretary. However, he didn’t comment on whether or not he has been considered for the position.

Although Johnson declined to comment on who he’d support as DHS chief, he did offer some advice for any future nominee. Most of the day-to-day homeland security work has little to do with political issues, Johnson said. The next DHS secretary should continue agency rebuilding efforts, management reform, and continue to focus on cybersecurity issues, he said.

The next DHS head should view “counter-terrorism as one cornerstone and cyber as the other cornerstone,” Johnson said. With the increase of cyberattacks in the U.S., many look to the DHS as the “federal civilian agency that deals with cybersecurity,” he said.

Harman said that next DHS leader should remain vigilant on national cybersecurity issues due to the increasing threat of disabling cyberattacks. The Department’s “cyber mission should be much more focused,” she said. Cyberattacks that have the ability to knock out key network infrastructure systems are as “lethal as any other attack on” the U.S., she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel R. Stoller in Washington at dStoller@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald Aplin at daplin@bna.com

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