Coons and Blumenthal say the DHS secretary already has the authority under existing statutes to issue such advisory guidelines. They argue that the president should instruct Napolitano to take this action, especially because Congress is gridlocked on cybersecurity legislation after Senate Republicans blocked a sweeping bill by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) in August.
"We remain committed to the passage of this important legislation, and are continuing our efforts to resolve differences regarding the appropriate role of government in the protection of critical infrastructure," Coons and Blumenthal wrote. "We write today to stress, however, that the failure of Congress to act should not prevent the executive branch from taking available steps to counter the enormous and growing cyber threat."
The Obama administration is currently crafting a cybersecurity executive
order that would create a voluntary program where companies operating
critical infrastructure would verify that their computer systems meet a set
of security standards. The draft, which is subject to further revisions, has been circulated to agency officials.
"We believe that the government and the private sector must work together with great urgency to enhance the cybersecurity of privately held critical infrastructure and had hoped that the widely shared goal of addressing this important national security need would have succeeded in forging a consensus," the senators added in their letter.
However, the two Democratic Judiciary members acknowledge that an executive order's authority is limited and cannot accomplish everything that cybersecurity legislation would. In particular, they note that an executive order could not provide companies incentives for meeting voluntary standards.
"A well-crafted set of voluntary standards could, however, be an important step towards improving the cybersecurity of our nation’s critical infrastructure," the two senators wrote.
Coons and Blumenthal join the chorus of senators who have called on the White House to issue an executive order on cybersecurity. Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), both co-sponsors of Lieberman's bill, have made similar calls in recent letters to the White House.