The Public Eye with Eric Chabrow

White House RSA Message Consistent Over the Years

Mantra of Public-Private Partnership from Obama Emissaries
White House RSA Message Consistent Over the Years

Attendees mostly come from the business and vendor community, a major constituency crucial for the success of the Obama administration cyberspace agenda.

And this year, as in the past two, the Obama administration has sent its top guns to San Francisco, with the message that the federal government can't accomplish any of its cybersecurity goals without the cooperation of the private sector. Listen to these emissaries; their speeches consistently include the mantra: the need for a public/private-partnership (sorry CSIS's Jim Lewis, who tweeted this past week that that term be banned in 2011).

The Obama administration has sent its top guns to San Francisco, with the message that the federal government can't accomplish any of its cybersecurity goals without the cooperation of the private sector. 

In 2011, government IT security remains highly visible at RSA, but it isn't as sexy as it was the previous two years; it has matured as an IT security topic. That has a lot to do with the novelty surrounding the Obama administration's initial embrace of cybersecurity as a national priority. The newness has worn off.

In 2009, President Obama sent Melissa Hathaway to the Mascone Center, then in the midst of preparing her "60-day" cyberspace policy review, to update the IT security community on the progress of the development of the administration's cybersecurity policy (see Hathaway: White House Must Lead in Cybersecurity). Hathaway's keynote address was skimpy on details, not unsurprising since her speech came five weeks before Obama unveiled the plan. But Hathaway's presence sent an important message: The IT security community matters. "Only through such partnerships will the United States be able to enhance cybersecurity and reap the full benefits of the digital revolution," she said.

Last year, Howard Schmidt was on the job as White House cybersecurity coordinator for about six weeks when he appeared at RSA (see Howard Schmidt Achieves Rock-Star Status). A long-time leader in IT security circles, Schmidt was greeted as a local hero who had brought the Lombardi Trophy home to Green Bay. Schmidt didn't have to speak of the private-public partnership; he lived it. Yes, he mentioned it in his keynote address. "We will not defeat our cyber adversaries because they are weakening," he said. "We will defeat them by becoming collectively stronger, through stronger technology, a stronger cadre of security professionals and stronger partnerships."

Schmidt wasn't the lone keynoter from the administration in 2010 appealing to the private sector to jointly tackle cybersecurity challenges (see The Government's Infosec "Conspirators"). Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and FBI Director Robert Mueller also made that pitch in their speeches.

This year, Schmidt is back, not in a keynote role, but a more comfortable one; appearing on panels - in one, decrying the worries over cyberwar, returning to a topic he discussed with us last year (see Howard Schmidt Dismisses Cyberwar Fears) - and wandering the conferences hallways and tradeshow floor, bumping elbows with old friends, looking like he's having fun back home.

The senior administration envoy to keynote this year was Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn III, who is leading the Pentagon's cybersecurity initiatives (see Steve Jobs is Apple of Pentagon's Eye). On cue, Lynn spoke of the cooperation between government and business in meeting cybersecurity challenges. In his remarks, Lynn announced expansion of DoD's new Information Technology Exchange Program to promote the exchange of cybersecurity personnel between government and industry. "We want senior IT managers in the department to incorporate more commercial practices," he said. "And we want seasoned industry professionals to experience first-hand the unique challenges we face at DoD."

The government IT profile may not remain as high in the coming years as it has been in the past few, but expect the lobbying by senior administration officials of the private-sector IT security community at RSA to continue in the foreseeable future. It's a constituency that it can't ignore.

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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