Governance & Risk Management

Cybersecurity "Czar" Hubbub Continues

Lawmakers Seek to Give More Power to White House Infosec Adviser
Cybersecurity "Czar" Hubbub Continues
Don't expect the hullabaloo surrounding the cybersecurity "czar" to vanish despite the appointment Tuesday of Howard Schmidt as the White House cybersecurity coordinator.

Since President Obama announced in late May he would appoint a cybersecurity coordinator, much of the hubbub focused on who that person would be and - as the months rolled by - when the appointment would be made. That's been settled.

But the fact that Schmidt reports not to the president, but to National Security Adviser James Jones, and that the post doesn't require Senate confirmation, bothers some influential lawmakers who believe the job should be situated higher on the White House organizational chart.

While praising the naming of Schmidt, Sen. Joseph Lieberman said he will introduce legislation early next year to require the White House cybersecurity adviser be confirmed by the Senate. The Connecticut Independent Democrat who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, in his statement, did not indicate what powers his bill would give the cybersecurity adviser.

Many backers of a stronger administration cybersecurity adviser want to create an Office of Cyberspace within the White House, as recommended a year ago by the Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency, a prestige group of lawmakers, former government and military officials and academicians with cybersecurity expertise. It's a position backed by the leaders of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, who are authors of one of nearly three dozen cybersecurity bills before Congress.

The legislation introduced by Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe, the panel's chairman and ranking Republican, would create a cabinet-level, Senate confirmed national cybersecurity adviser within the White House who would report directly to the president. Their legislation is based on the statute that created the U.S. Trade Representative.

"We remain concerned that this cybersecurity coordinator position, even filled by a leader like Schmidt, still does not possess the institutional heft that it needs," Rockefeller, D.-W.Va., and Snowe, R.-Maine, said in a joint statement. "Cybersecurity is an issue that cuts across all agencies of government and every sector of the U.S. economy, and our national and economic security calls for powerful leadership from the White House. Howard Schmidt's appointment is a step in the right direction - but it is only a first step."

Still, some lawmakers don't see the hurry to codify a White House cybersecurity adviser. Rep. Yvette Clarke, the New York Democrat who chairs the House Homeland Security's Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity and Science and Technology, said in an earlier interview that lawmakers and policymakers should wait and see how the current setup works before changing it. "I don't know that it's necessary at this stage to put it in statute," Clarke said in an with "I'm hesitant to rush into a whole lot of legislating around cybersecurity."

And, what does the new cybersecurity coordinator have to say on this matter? Schmidt hasn't granted any interviews since his appointment, but here's what he told in August:

"We have to make sure that the power of the office of the Executive Office of the President is behind it. So whether it is reporting to the national security adviser, national economic adviser or it is someplace else ... it has (to have) the ability to do what needs to be done to coordinate across the government agencies."

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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