Governance & Risk Management

Howard Schmidt's First Press Conference

Transcript of Cybersecurity Coordinator's Impromptu Media Session
Howard Schmidt's First Press Conference
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White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt held an impromptu news conference after delivering a speech at the State of the Internet Conference, sponsored by the Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus, in Washington on Jan. 27. It was his first meeting with the media since starting his White House job a week earlier. Here's the transcript of that press conference as recorded and edited by

QUESTION: Did you have any surprises during your first week on the job?

ANSWER: No, not at all.

Q: Not all. No.

A: I mean, it's great. Like I said, I have been meeting some members on the Hill. I have been interspersing in some of the meetings with some of the folks not only within the White House, but outside, and as I said out there, everybody is tremendously jazzed that we are well poised to make some real differences in the long term. So yeah, no real surprises and a lot of work, which is not a surprise either.

Q: You seem very optimistic.

A: I am. I am.

Q: Why?

A: Well, I think there are a lot of things. Like I said, there are things that are aligning properly. We have got tremendous recognition on the Hill; we have got from the president, all the senior leadership, the administration are very much aware and care about the situation. We have got the private sector folks, not only the security community, which has always had an interest in this, but we've have got senior leadership, CEOs of companies. I mean there is a lot of momentum out there to do this. And granted, we recognize there are a whole lot of other things out there that we have got to deal with as a society, but this is not going to slip below the radar. It may not be on the front news everyday, but there are a lot of things being done in the background.

Q: Have you met with the President since ...

A: I have, yeah. Well, not since I have been back; I met him a couple of weeks ago. Yeah, it has been tough; I've been lucky I can get in and out and do a lot of the other things I am doing right now.

Q: Any timeline on any sort of big plans, strategy stuff?

A: Right now it is just the day-to-day work of getting things done.

Q: What kind of staff do you have working with you? Do you have a team of analysts and who is working with you?

A: I have got a complete staff of about 10 people that are working the entire things from the technology to the privacy issues, the intelligence issues, and so basically we have got a good team that Chris (Painter, acting cybersecurity coordinator) helped put together and I can't say enough about how much work Chris has done in the background in making sure things continue to move forward.

Q: How long will Chris be staying there?

A: As long as I can keep him, believe me.

Q: You mentioned about your meetings with Vivek and Aneesh (Federal CIO Vivek Kundra and Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra) about cybersecurity roles and responsibilities; there is a lot of concern about how does it all fit together. Can you give us a little insight in terms of how you think that is going to shape out?

A: Yes, I can, and I will use the typical analogy: we are three legs of the same stool. You know, we fully recognize that in order to be innovative in the technology perspective, from an information technology perspective and security, we have got to be working together. So the projects they are working on I am now getting looped into those projects. We are sitting down there and looking at how we can move forward, how we can continue to keep the leg up on the innovative piece by being or rolling out new technologies that are also secure.

Q: Because one of the things about the next role from the past was that was a very big, big focus on cybersecurity, Karen Evans, Mark Forman (Kundra's predecessors), etc., how did you play into that because your responsibility is not just internal of the government but external, where Vivek's role traditionally has always been very internal to the government and there is some concern about what does that leave Vivek to do or what does that leave you?

A: Truly, [Vivek] puts this in an operational perspective. I look at it more from a policy perspective across the coordinating body and the things that he is doing. You're right, he really, really cares about this. He knows the subject very well and ... we are pulling all the right people together from the agencies to help make sure that he is successful as well.

Q: How much of a factor you are going to have on budget decisions? In this town, if you don't have an impact on where the money goes, how much affect do you have as far as where money is being spent on security in the government's network? I mean, how much input are you going to get there? Do you have all OMB's (Office of Management and Budget's) ear?

A: And, one, I don't believe that if you don't have budget authority, you don't have the ability to affect changes. I mean clearly when the president and the national security adviser and the national economic adviser says, "Hey, we need to do these things," things happen. But as far as OMB specifically, that is one of the key roles with Vivek because he has the input with that. I am invited to the table to discuss how things are done, what is the best way to do them, so I don't need it in order to effect the changes.

Q: From your perspective you mentioned kind of five priorities, five areas that you are looking at. What do you see as your top one? Where do you go forward? I mean, you're learning now, in six months where do you see you spending a lot of your time, a lot of your efforts?

A: And I can't say that because, right now and I think many of us live in a world where we multitask, we parallel process, and that is the way I think this issue needs to be. So I wouldn't sit there and say one is more important than the other. I am looking at them all because I have got a staff to do it, I have got government agencies to look after this, so we are just going to be working through these things item by item.

Q: Was this feet to the fire when you came in? I mean were you thrown into like the Google issue and other issues that are current and are happening right now right away or have you been sort of getting your feet on the ground?

A: It is hit the ground running, I think there was no expectation when I came in that we were going to sit there and do a lot of extraneous things. The idea was we are going to come in, get the administrative things we needed to do and start working and that is what we have been doing.

Q: Who do you meet with everyday?

A: Well, it depends on what the environment is. I meet with some of the agencies, I do video teleconferences, I meet with the folks inside the National Security staff, the Homeland Security staff, I mean it is everybody and it varies from day to day.

Q: How would you characterize this White House compared with the last White House when it comes to taking cybersecurity seriously?

A: Well, it is two different environments. I mean once again, I am not a political person so I don't know how you would look at that from that perspective, but I know there is a deep caring for the subject, a deep understanding of the subject, and a real desire to make long-term changes in cybersecurity.

Q: It has been week, a lot of meetings and a lot more to come. DoD (Department of Defense), do you or have you had a chance to sit down with your deputy CIO over there or the head of JTF-GNO (Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations) and some of those people?

A: Some of the more senior leadership I have met with already, once again via teleconferencing and with what my schedule is looking like right now, meeting with those people because once again the deputy secretary, the senior leadership over there cares very deeply. And, one of the first things I did was have an exchange of e-mails and voicemails with people saying, "Hey let's get together as soon as possible so we are doing that."

Q: Anything you can tell us from that meeting? I know it is probably very sensitive but anything at a high level?

A: No, nothing I can.

Q: Have you worked any of the stuff that has been in the news like Google, etc.?

A: I think everybody that is in the world that is in the security business has worked on one of piece of this or another, yeah.

Q: Do you get to sleep at night?

A: Of course, I get to sleep. I sleep very well knowing there is a whole bunch of really good people working on this issue and that is the thing - you asked me about being optimistic, you know nothing has stopped just because this thing wasn't - this appointment wasn't done and everything else. There is a lot of work that is being done and people care deeply about this; probably they loose a lot of sleep just because of the magnitude of the work they have got.

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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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