White House clashes with legislators over new cyber post

The co-chair of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission said he has yet to hear from the White House on why they don't want a new top cybersecurity official in the executive branch.

Members of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission are hopeful that they can pass legislation establishing a National Cyber Director, but they're still working to figure out what specific objections the White House may have to the proposal.

In a June 30 call with reporters, King said that while he has heard the White House opposes the idea, he has yet to see "a letter or a statement" explaining why, or whether different legislative language could alleviate any concerns. He views the proposal as "a favor" to the White House by giving it a single point of accountability on cyber policy issues.

"We've heard the National Security Advisor [Robert O'Brien] is at least skeptical of the proposal if not outright opposed," King said. "As far as I know we haven't received anything that outlines their reasoning for their position."

That hasn't deterred supporters, who are still aiming to include the requirement in the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act through a floor amendment, manager's amendment or when the House and Senate conference on a final version of the bill. King said he is currently in discussions with Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Cybersecurity Subcommittee, to hold a hearing on the subject in the next few weeks. Standalone legislation has also been introduced in the House, while the Senate NDAA has a provision that would conduct a feasibility study for the proposal.

"I haven't given up on it, and I shouldn't even put it that way, I believe we're going to be able to find a resolution on it," King said.

Senators have adapted more than 20 other recommendations from the Solarium report into amendments for the NDAA, many sponsored or cosponsored by King. Some initiatives are expected to garner broad bipartisan support, King said, including provisions to establish a national cyber tabletop exercise, study the integration of federal cybersecurity centers, promoting continuity of the economy in the wake of a national emergency and anything that aims to bolster or improve the cybersecurity workforce.

Senators are also working to get approval from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on an amendment that would address the Commission's desire to further bolster the authorities and reach of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

Whatever doesn't make it into this year's NDAA will be funneled through standalone legislation, other committees and future defense authorization vehicles.

One priority recommendation that can't be done through legislation: streamlining congressional committee jurisdiction around cyber policy issues.

Such a change would have to go through the Rules Committee and get the blessing of House and Senate leadership and committees are often reluctant to give up their jurisdiction in any policy area. One possible idea to deal with that reality: structuring the new committee to include leadership from other committees that previously had jurisdiction over the issue. That could act "as a way to alleviate concerns and assure them a literal seat at the table," a spokesperson for the Senator told FCW through email.

King said the laborious nature of getting approval for various NDAA cyber amendments "has reinforced my belief that that's an important change" that needs to be made.

"We've had to get, for the amendments we're going to be proposing this week, 180 clearances from majority and minority staff members on both House and Senate committees," he said. "It indicates how this process is…fractured in terms of dealing with these cyber issues."

This article first appeared on FCW, a Defense Systems partner site. 

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