The Public Eye with Eric Chabrow

Maine Senators, Often Twinned, Split on Cyber Czar

Maine Senators, Often Twinned, Split on Cyber Czar

Maine's two senators - who stood together as the only incumbent Republicans to back President Obama's stimulus package - have diverged on whether the post of White House cybersecurity chief should be created. One contends the job is needless; the other argues the post must have more clout.

Susan Collins, the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, questions Obama's plan to name a high-ranking White House cybersecurity coordinator. "While I commend the president for recognizing the need to strengthen cybersecurity, I don't think the appointment of yet another 'czar' in the White House is the answer to this pressing and complex issue," Collins said in a statement. "Placing a strategy czar in the White House will hinder Congress's ability to effectively oversee federal cybersecurity activities and will do little to resolve the bureaucratic conflicts, turf battles, and confusing lines of authority that have undermined past cybersecurity efforts."

In an earlier statement, Collins said the government should consider leaving much of the coordination of federal civilian cybersecurity to the Department of Homeland Security.

But her senior partner from Maine, Olympia Snowe, suggests the president didn't go far enough in creating the White House cybersecurity post. Snowe, the ranking GOP member of the Senate Commerce Committee, issued a joint statement with panel Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D.-W.Va., which says: "We strongly urge the president to follow through on his groundbreaking leadership on this issue by giving this 'cyber czar' the heft and authority the position requires - this advisor should report directly to the president on all cyber matters. There is no room for error, and no room for bureaucratic turf battles."

Snowe and Rockefeller are sponsors of legislation that would give a White House cybersecurity chief more cloud than Obama proposes, as does a competing measure offered by Sen. Tom Carper, D.-Delaware, who chairs a Homeland Security subcommittee with IT security oversight, who said Obama's recommendations and his legislation "will help institutionalize necessary security practices and measures that will enhance our nation's cyber security posture, and focus our efforts on effectively defending our critical networks."

Obama proposes having the cybersecurity coordinator within the National Security Council, with the official also reporting to the National Economic Council. Though the cybersecurity official would from time to time have Obama's ear, most of the time he or she would report to the president through either the White House national security or national economic advisors.

Carper's staff has been working with the administration to draft his bill, known as U.S. Information and Communications Enhancement Act, and is seen revising the measure to conform more closely with the president's vision of a cybersecurity coordinator.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the Maryland Democrat who serves on Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, commends Obama on his decision to form a White House cybersecurity unit, saying the new post would better coordinate private sector and government defenses against hackers and cyber spies.

"Last year, the (National Cyber Security Initiative) made some initial steps to address important vulnerabilities in our government networks," Mikulski said in a statement. "However, key questions about governance, workforce development, technology development and civil liberties protections remained unanswered. I believe the creation of a White House Cyber Office is one important step in addressing these critical issues."

And on the other side of the Capitol, Rep. Jim Langevin, the Rhode Island Democrat who as co-chair the House Cybersecurity Caucus and the Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency - a panel sponsored by the D.C. think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies - lauded Obama's cybersecurity strategy. "Over the coming months," he said, "I look forward to working with the new cyber coordinator to fine tune its more general recommendations and make sure we are putting this report into action."

About the Author

Eric Chabrow

Eric Chabrow

Retired Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Chabrow, who retired at the end of 2017, hosted and produced the semi-weekly podcast ISMG Security Report and oversaw ISMG's GovInfoSecurity and InfoRiskToday. He's a veteran multimedia journalist who has covered information technology, government and business.

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