Public, private sectors still far apart on protecting IT infrastructure

The Homeland Security Department and private industry continue to work separately, rather than closer together, on instituting measures to protect the nation's cyber and telecommunications infrastructure, and part of the disconnect can be attributed to DHS' failure to name an assistant secretary to take the lead on the issue.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information and International Security, scolded George Foresman, undersecretary for preparedness at DHS, for not making greater progress.

'I am grieved to note that our nation's security from a cyber-based attack has not improved' since a similar hearing last year, Coburn said. And he told Foresman that DHS' prepared testimony would not be accepted for the record because it was not submitted until the night before the hearing, despite more than six weeks of advance notice about the hearing date.

'This is an example of what's happened with DHS on cybersecurity,' Coburn said. 'These kinds of games are not acceptable.'

Foresman apologized for the delay in delivering the testimony and took responsibility for ensuring Coburn would get timely answers to future requests. He defended DHS' performance in the cyberprotection arena, pointing to the release last month of the National Infrastructure Protection Plan.

But the senator dismissed that achievement, pointing out it was three years late and that the Government Accountability Office had found it did not sufficiently plan for the recovery of key Internet functions in the event of an attack or natural disaster.

But Coburn didn't let industry off the hook, either. It is difficult to hold DHS accountable for not exercising more leadership when the government is trying to recruit candidates for the assistant secretary's position, 'but no one is willing to take it and take [the salary hit] for three or four years,' he told a panel of business witnesses.

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