Assistant secretary for cybersecurity proposed

Two amendments to the Homeland Security Act have been proposed to raise the profile of cybersecurity within the Homeland Security Department and speed development and adoption of new technologies.

The Cybersecurity Enhancement Act, HR 5068, would create an assistant secretary for cybersecurity with broad responsibility for coordinating the department's efforts in securing critical IT infrastructure.

The Science and Technology Enhancement Act, HR 5069, would establish programs for the development, evaluation and acquisition of new technology. It would include classified programs with limited congressional reporting requirements and partnerships with foreign governments.

Both bills were introduced Monday by representatives Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). Thornberry is chairman of the Homeland Security Committee on Cybersecurity, Science and Research and Development and Lofgren is ranking member.

The highest official devoted to cybersecurity at DHS currently is Amit Yoran, director of the DHS National Cyber Security Division in the Directorate for Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection. There have been complaints that the position needs a higher profile at the assistant or undersecretary level.

The proposed assistant secretary would have primary authority for the department's cybersecurity infrastructure protection programs, including response to attacks and restoration of systems, and would have authority over the National Communications System. He also would work with other federal agencies as well as state and local governments, and the private sector.

The Science and Technology Enhancement Act would extend the life of the Homeland Security Institute from its original three to 10 years and authorizes the creation of Special Access Programs. These programs operate under exceptional security measures, and information about them is limited on a need-to-know basis. Each program must be authorized annually by Congress.

DHS also would identify and conduct research on the most important technological challenges to homeland security. The bill authorizes $3.7 million in grants to universities to be issued with the National Science Foundation, and $20 million to establish programs with friendly governments, including Israel and the United Kingdom.

A focus of the development programs would be interoperable communications. An Office of Public Safety Interoperable Communications would be established to pursue this.

'The Science and Technology Directorate is making progress, but we want to help the department focus on working with the private sector and to establish a formal program to improve interoperability,' Thornberry said.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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