Obama Cybersecurity Coordinator Resigns

Howard Schmidt to Step Down at End of Month

By , May 17, 2012.
Obama Cybersecurity Coordinator Resigns

Howard Schmidt, the White House cybersecurity coordinator since January 2010, will step down as President Obama's top IT security adviser at the end of the month.

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Schmidt, 62, says he's retiring to spend more time with his family and to pursue teaching in the cybersecurity field.

In a statement issued by the White House, Schmidt says he and his government colleagues "have made real progress in our efforts to better deal with the risks in cyberspace so, around the world, we can all realize the full benefits that cyberspace brings us."

Schmidt will be succeeded by J. Michael Daniel, chief of the White House budget office's intelligence branch. Daniel is a 17-year Office of Management and Budget veteran, having spent the past 10 years focused on cybersecurity.

Daniel, 41, played a key role in shaping intelligence budgets and has worked on every major issue affecting the intelligence community, according to the White House. Since 2007, Daniel has coordinated funding for federal cybersecurity activities, including the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative and an annual review of federal agency cybersecurity spending.

Daniel, in a statement, says he's honored to be asked to take on such an important role at a time cybersecurity is a prominent issue. "The challenges in this area are real and serious, but I have the benefit of building on the progress Howard has made through his leadership and I look forward to continuing my career in public service in a new way," he says.

NSA Director Enthused by Daniel's Appointment

Army Gen. Keith Alexander, who heads the National Security Agency and military cyber command, says the cybersecurity coordinator-designate has been an influential voice in cybersecurity within the executive branch. "He understands the challenges that are facing our nation in cyberspace and the importance of moving forward with urgency to address the threats," Alexander says in a statement issued by the White House. "He listens carefully, quickly gets to the root of issues and identifies a path forward that takes into account the stakeholders key issues"

Schmidt, during his tenure, led efforts to raise the public's consciousness of IT security, traveling around the country, speaking about the cyberthreats facing government, business and society. Behind the scenes, he worked with Congress to help shape legislation aimed at quelling the cyberthreat. Many of the administration's cybersecurity goals can be found in a Senate bill, the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, that would toughen IT security requirements on federal agencies Federal Information Security Management Act as well as regulate the mostly privately owned national critical IT infrastructure.

As head of the Internet Security Alliance, an industry trade group, Larry Clinton has battled Schmidt over cyber regulation of private industry, yet characterizes the retiring cybersecurity coordinator as an "unsung national hero." Clinton says Schmidt's most tangible accomplishments involved the "herculean task" of coordinating various federal agencies with overlapping and conflicting cyber mandates, including the emergence of the cyber command and defining the cybersecurity roles of the departments of Defense and Homeland Security and the NSA.

"Anyone who doesn't think this is a major accomplishment doesn't understand the problem," Clinton says. "More generally, Howard can be credited for being one of the major influences on the emergence of cybersecurity as a major issue requiring far more intensified public policy analysis and direction than was the case before Howard took office."

Among Schmidt's pet projects is the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, an initiative that envisions an Internet ecosystem in which people can choose from a marketplace of trusted credentials that prove their identities so they can transact business safely online (see video interview with Schmidt below).

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Also during Schmidt's tenure, the White House announced an international cyberspace strategy that called for the United States to respond to cyberattacks as it would to kinetic attacks.

Rep. Jim Langevin, the co-chair of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, called Schmidt an ideal leader who played a vital role in shaping the nation's approach to cybersecurity at a critical time, not only in the public proposals he has helped to craft, but in his behind-the-scenes work educating government and business leaders on cyberthreats. "He has established the groundwork for the administration to build on his efforts under Michael Daniel's very capable leadership," Langevin says in a statement.

During Schmidt's tenure as cybersecurity coordinator, the Obama administration unveiled its first international strategy for cyberspace, which stated that the United States will respond to hostile acts in cyberspace as it would to any other threat to the country, reserving the right to use "all necessary means," including diplomatic and military, to defend the nation.

In the field of cybersecurity, Schmidt has done it all.

Schmidt spent more than 30 years in public service, including an early stint as the White House special adviser on cyberspace security and as chief strategist for the U.S.-CERT (United States Computer Emergency Response Team) Partners Program at the Department of Homeland Security during the administration of George W. Bush. He served on an IT privacy board that advises the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Commerce Department and White House.

In the private sector, Schmidt has held top IT security posts at Microsoft and eBay. An author of two IT security books, Schmidt had academic affiliations with Georgia Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon and Idaho State University.

Schmidt was the first president of the Information Security Forum, an independent, not-for-profit association aimed at harnessing the brainpower of public and private-sector experts in IT security and risk management.

Before becoming an OMB branch chief, Daniel served as a program examiner in the budget office's operations and personnel branch, covering the Navy, Marine Corps and contingency operations programs. According to his Linkedin profile, Daniel earned a bachelor degree in public policy from Princeton University in 1992, a master of public policy degree with a concentration in national security from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in 1995 and a master of science degree in national resource planning from the National Defense University in 2001.

Follow Eric Chabrow on Twitter: @GovInfoSecurity

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