Cyber tinkering

Thomas R. Temin

A brief flurry of back-office legislation, via an amendment to the intelligence overhaul bill, recently aimed to move a piece of the Homeland Security De-partment back to the White House, or more precisely, to the Office of Management and Budget.

As first reported by the Associated Press, OMB would have gotten an office called the Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection, comprising what is now DHS' National Cyber Security Division.
That division'the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board in the pre-DHS days'will, for now, stay where it is, under the Infrastructure Assurance and Information Protection directorate at DHS. Got all that?

The gambit died after industry objections. Probably lawmakers were merely floating a trial balloon while sending a message of impatience to DHS. But it nevertheless sparked the resignation of Amit Yoran, the cybersecurity chief.

The division is concerned with protection of the government's own systems as well as systems crucial to computer-controlled infrastructure in private and nonfederal hands'water, electricity, transportation and so forth.

Industry has never been comfortable with a federal data-gathering and coordination role, because individual companies fear sharing their trade secrets with competitors.

But why the objection to moving the function out of DHS and into the White House?

One possible reason: OMB has in re-cent years been a seat of powerful activism. Any efforts emanating from it to enforce security or security reporting requirements would carry a lot more clout than they do now, coming from a bureau deep within a directorate of a department that is still finding its own way.

Another benefit to moving the Cyber Security Division, from lawmakers' point of view, would have been putting more teeth into the Federal Information Security Management Act. Most agencies give lip service to FISMA, but progress has been spotty.

Status quo may hold for now, but watch for more tinkering with DHS.

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