White House unhappy with NDAA's cyber strategy demand

President Donald Trump signed the 2018 defense authorization bill into law on Dec. 12, but he had a few choice words for a section designed to pressure the White House into delivering a cybersecurity strategy to Congress.

In a signing statement, Trump said he strongly objected a provision that limits funding for the White House Communications Agency "contingent upon the submission of a report on a national policy for cyberspace, cybersecurity, and cyberwarfare." Trump called the measure "unprecedented and dangerous."

The item, section 1633 in the National Defense Authorization Act, is near and dear to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.),  the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

When the Senate version of the defense bill was being finalized, the committee report included text encouraging "the new administration to immediately prioritize the development of a cyber deterrence strategy that emphasizes both deterrence by denial and deterrence by consequence imposition."

In hearing after hearing and in speeches, McCain has repeatedly slammed what he sees as a weak and uncoordinated approach to cybersecurity on the part of the current administration. McCain has said the U.S. approach is "overgrown with bureaucracy and choked by duplication" and has called on the Trump administration to develop a coherent strategy.

The newly signed law calls for the administration to develop and report to Congress on U.S. plans to deter and respond to cyberattacks by foreign powers, plans to defend U.S. networks and critical infrastructure systems and plans to respond in cyberspace in such a way "to impose costs on any foreign power targeting the United States or United States persons with a cyberattack or malicious cyber activity." The bill also calls on the president to enhance the ability of the U.S to enhance attribution capabilities.

The law places limits on expenditures by the Defense Information Systems Agency in support of the White House Communication Agency and White House Situation support staff.

"I take cyber related issues very seriously, as demonstrated by Executive Order 13800, which has initiated strategic actions across executive departments and agencies that will improve the Nation's cyber-related capabilities," Trump wrote. "WHCA plays a critical role in providing secure communications to the President and his staff.  The Congress should not hold hostage the President's ability to communicate in furtherance of the Nation's security and foreign policy.  I look forward to working with the Congress to address, as quickly as possible, this unprecedented and dangerous funding restriction."

McCain issued a statement praising the signing of the NDAA and calling on Congress to pass the budget measures necessary to support the law's spending levels, which exceed Budget Control Act caps. A spokesperson for McCain did not respond to a request for comment about the signing statement.

This article first appeared on FCW, a Defense Systems sibling publication.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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