Who Is Michael Daniel?

New Cybersecurity Coordinator Will Reshape White House Post
Who Is Michael Daniel?

Some of the most-connected people in Washington's cybersecurity community never heard of Michael Daniel, who will succeed Howard Schmidt when he retires at month's end as White House cybersecurity coordinator [see Obama Cybersecurity Coordinator Resigns].

See Also: DORA Key Provisions and Best Practices

"Don't know him," a highly respected government IT security thought-leader says of Daniel, the White House Office of Management and Budget intelligence branch chief for the past 11 years.

"I never heard of him," a long-time federal agency chief information security officer says.

That Daniel has remained under the radar for so long doesn't surprise Karen Evans, the administrator for e-government and IT at OMB during the last 5½ years of the George W. Bush administration. Like Schmidt, Evans was in a political position and represented the public face of the administration. "Michael is an OMB careerist and we were very protective of them, so they could transition from administration to administration; that was their job," says Evans, then known as the federal government's de facto chief information officer.

Daniel's job, as intelligence branch chief, is to understand thoroughly the policies that justify hundreds of millions of dollars in annual spending on U.S. defense and intelligence agencies' cybersecurity initiatives.

"Michael was picked because of his intimate knowledge of national security accounts, where the true capabilities exist," says Melissa Hathaway, a top cybersecurity adviser to Presidents Bush and Obama, who worked closely with Daniel in creating the federal government's Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative. "He knows what can be leveraged in the national security apparatus to help assure the defense of the country."

Bank of America CISO Patrick Gorman sees Daniel as a great choice because of his experience in cybersecurity policy. "Michael is a strong manager who did a lot of heavy lifting under CNCI," says Gorman, who as assistant and then acting associate national intelligence director, worked with Daniel from 2007 to 2009. "Few people in government know the whole range of cybersecurity programs and capabilities better. I think this was a great pick, especially so given the need to better integrate the numerous programs in government."

Daniel's deep knowledge of IT security programs and their costs could prove useful as government agencies confront potential across-the-board budget cuts of up to 10 percent starting next year, a process known as sequestration, as a result of a deficit-cutting budget deal enacted last year.

"Choosing Michael signals that you're putting somebody in there who has intimate knowledge of where things go, in a very controversial budget year where trades and advocacy for key things are going to have to be made, especially as we go into potential sequester," Hathaway says. "You want somebody who knows the truth about what's going on in the different accounts and different agencies. And, he's the guy. He's maybe the only person besides his boss."

The paths taken by Schmidt and Daniel to the cybersecurity coordinator post couldn't have been more dissimilar.

Schmidt's road to the White House was circuitous as the highways he rides on his Harley-Davidson. A Vietnam-era Air Force veteran, he worked in law enforcement for the Chandler, Ariz., police; Air Force, Army and FBI. Having earned his BA in business administration and MA in organizational management from the University of Phoenix, Schmidt taught at Georgia Tech, Idaho State and Carnegie Mellon. He worked as a venture capitalist and IT security consultant. Schmidt was chief security officer at Microsoft and eBay as well as headed a number of IT security associations. During the Bush administration, he served as vice chair of the President's Critical Infrastructure Board.

Daniel at 41, a generation younger than the 62-year-old Schmidt, is a martial arts enthusiast who has a distinguished academic pedigree that mirrors the best and brightest in Washington: a bachelor degree in public policy from Princeton University, master of public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and a master in national resource planning from the National Defense University. After graduating from Princeton in 1992, Daniel took a job as a research assistant at the Southern Center for International Studies, a think tank in Atlanta. Upon receiving his master's degree from Harvard, he joined OMB as a program examiner in the operations and personnel branch, covering the Navy, Marine Corps and contingency operations programs.

With different backgrounds and skills than Schmidt's, Daniel will reshape the role of cybersecurity coordinator. Often, the first person to hold a position is perceived as an ideas person; the second one, an executor. A case in point: Mark Forman was OMB's first e-administrator from 2001 to 2003, developing the nation's cybersecurity strategy as the focus on IT security intensified following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. During Forman's tenure, Congress enacted the Federal Information Security Management Act, the law the Bush administration helped draft that governs federal government IT security. But it turned to his successor Evans to execute on much of the strategy. Similarly, Schmidt helped shepherd the creation of new government IT security initiatives, but it will be Daniel who will be tasked to make sure they'll be implemented.

"Mark changed the dialogue; Howard changed the dialogue. That's a certain set of skills," Evans says. "But you need the next set of skills where you have to execute."

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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