Homeland Security Committee Earns Tech Kudos

The technology industry is loudly applauding the creation of a subcommittee on the new House Homeland Security Committee that focuses on cyber-security, science and research and development.

"The establishment of this pivotal subcommittee underscores the importance of cyber-security to our critical infrastructures, our economy and our citizens," said Bill Conner, CEO of computer security company Entrust Inc.

The 50-member Select Committee on Homeland Security was formed in January, but wrapped up its organizational structure on Tuesday with the creation of five subcommittees aimed at protecting the nation's most critical assets — including cyber ones — and overseeing the new Department of Homeland Security.

The other four subcommittees created were Infrastructure and Border Security; Emergency Preparedness and Response; Intelligence and Counterterrorism; and Rules.

"At a time when our nation has a heightened awareness of the need to secure our homeland, it is essential to recognize that without cyber-security, there is no physical security, said Robert Holleyman, president of the Business Software Alliance. "Chairman Cox has recognized that reliable information networks are one of the most important tools in the government's homeland security efforts."

The committee was formed by consolidating the jurisdiction of 40 other committees and subcommittees, including House Energy and Commerce, Transportation and Infrastructure, Government Reform and Intelligence. Leading the committee are Chairman Chris Cox, R-Calif., and ranking member Jim Turner, D-Texas.

Cox said Tuesday that the committee will put aside partisan fights in the name of homeland security.

"We are here because we have a job to do, one that does not involve partisan fighting," he said, "but rather ensuring that the largest reorganization of the federal government since the 1950s achieves its purpose: preventing another terrorist strike on American soil."

This cyber-security subcommittee will have oversight of the security of computer, telecommunications, information technology, industrial control, electric infrastructure and data systems, science and research and development activities aimed at boosting the nation's defenses.

It will oversee Homeland Security Department activities to protect both government and private computer networks and systems from domestic and foreign attacks and to protect U.S. infrastructures from any effects of a cyber attack.

The tech industry has been adamant about the need for more cooperation between the government and industry to share information about cyber weak spots. Because the private sector owns over 80 percent of the nation's critical infrastructures, techies say government needs their know-how to secure systems of all kinds.

"The makers of technology products have made cyber-security the highest priority. Our member companies see this move by Congress as extremely important; we cannot overlook cyber-security as an aspect of physical security," said Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America.

Later this month, ITAA will issue a publication, "The Long Campaign: Information Security in the Age of Cyberterror," chock full of insights from leading private and public sector experts on combating cyber threats.

The tech industry and its wares will be a vital asset to the Homeland Security Department as the Bush administration looks for ways to stay one step ahead of any would-be terrorists.

"The first tool is to leverage our strength as the leader in IT and to more quickly place into the hands of decision-makers the best and most accurate intelligence that will inform decisions and enable action," Information Technology Industry Council President Rhett Dawson said at a homeland security summit in Washington on Wednesday.

"Intelligence coordination is key to protecting America and its allies from acts of terror and can be facilitated more effectively with the use of technology."

The other subcommittees will tackle a range of other issues.

The Infrastructure and Border Security Subcommittee will deal with prevention of importation of weapons, pathogens, narcotics and other contraband; illegal immigrants; borders, ports and airspace; infrastructure and government, business and financial institutions.

The Emergency Preparedness and Response panel will oversee the government's preparation and response to any chemical, biological, or radiological attacks and will deal with public health, disaster preparedness and coordination of emergency responses to a terrorist attack.

The Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism will make sure the Homeland Security Department and relevant intelligence agencies are doing their jobs preventing and interdicting terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and will make sure intelligence data is properly collected, shared and analyzed. It will also make sure that effort does not impede civil rights.

The Rules Subcommittee will make sure any House rules on homeland security are implemented and will deal with jurisdictional disputes related to the Homeland Security Department.

Cox will work on a proposal to make his committee permanent beginning in the 109th Congress, which begins January 2005. He plans to watch how the House Appropriations Committee deals with its own reorganization for Homeland Security Department funding before recommending ways to set up a standing homeland security committee.

Cox also urged the Senate to follow the House's lead and consolidate its own homeland security House.