House Seeks Shift in Cybersecurity Office

Published September 23, 2004

| Associated Press

House Republicans are proposing to move cybersecurity (search) offices from the Homeland Security Department (search) back to the White House as part of a broad U.S. intelligence reorganization, according to draft legislation obtained by The Associated Press.

The bill, expected to be introduced Thursday, would place cybersecurity efforts in the White House budget office. The change reflects frustration among some Republican lawmakers about what they view as a lack of attention paid to cybersecurity within the Homeland Security Department.

Some technology companies also have expressed similar concerns, but industry lobbyists reacted cautiously to the proposal. There was no such plan in a pending Senate intelligence overhaul bill.

Homeland Security "deserves the opportunity to demonstrate its effectiveness before taking this step," said Tom Galvin, a vice president at Verisign Inc. (search), an information security company. Galvin said he recognized the frustration among some in industry and Congress.

The Homeland Security Department considers equally important the protection of the nation's physical structures, such as bridges and buildings, and computer networks, which regulate the flow of electricity, phone calls, finances and other information.

Many leading technology companies have urged the Bush administration to pay greater attention to cybersecurity, arguing that a shutdown of vital networks could lead to sustained power outages and other serious disruptions.

"The fact that this is even being discussed reveals an incredible level of unhappiness and frustration over how DHS has handled cybersecurity," said Roger Cressey, a former White House cybersecurity adviser.

The government's cybersecurity chief, Amit Yoran, works at least three steps beneath Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. Yoran, who is well regarded by the technology industry, effectively replaced a position in the National Security Council (search) of the White House once held by Richard Clarke (search), a special adviser to President Bush.

The House proposal would create a new Office of Critical Infrastructure Information Protection (search) at the Office of Management and Budget. Its administrator would be responsible for analyzing electronic threats from hackers and terrorists against vital networks, issuing warnings about attacks, reducing weaknesses and coordinating with private companies and organizations.

Those are currently responsibilities of theNational Cyber Security Division (search), run by Yoran inside the Infrastructure Assurance and Information Protection directorate at Homeland Security.

The White House budget office already has some existing ties to cybersecurity issues since the government's council of chief information officers, which coordinates federal computer issues, works out of OMB. The office also has worked extensively on "e-government" issues, such as compelling federal agencies to offer citizens electronic copies of paperwork.

Still, the Republicans' proposal — and the sudden decision to include it in fast-moving legislation to overhaul the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy — surprised some technology industry leaders.

"We weren't consulted," said Harris Miller, head of the Information Technology Association of America (search), the industry's leading trade group in Washington. "It's not saying it's a bad idea, but it's out of the blue."

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