Lawmakers accuse DHS of stonewalling on cybersecurity plans

Lawmakers are accusing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of stonewalling Congress about a proposed reorganization of a government division that helps protect federal networks.

The DHS has reportedly been working on restructuring the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD), which includes an important cyber hub, as well as an office that helps secure the government’s networks.

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But the agency is keeping lawmakers in the dark about their plans, members of the House Homeland Security Committee said in a letter sent to the agency.

“Despite multiple media reports on the proposal to reorganize NPPD and numerous requests for information from our staff, we have yet to receive any specific details from the department,” said the letter, sent Tuesday.

Ten lawmakers signed the missive, including the chairman and ranking member of the full committee and four relevant subcommittees.

“DHS has provided limited information to Congress on this key matter,” Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said in a statement.

“The department has persisted in its ‘go it alone’ mentality and has ignored Congress' requests for information despite a record that demonstrates its need for oversight and accountability,” added Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), who chairs the panel’s subcommittee on cybersecurity, infrastructure protection and security technologies.

The DHS has played an increasingly important role in the government’s cybersecurity effort over the last year.

Congress late last year passed a series of bills that strengthened the agency’s cyber workforce and codified certain aspects of the DHS cybersecurity mission.

Lawmakers are currently considering more bills that would further clarify the agency’s cyber role while strengthening its authority to proactively investigate and defend federal networks across the government.

The House Homeland Security Committee is also drafting a bill that would transform the NPPD.

McCaul said the committee would soon hold hearings as lawmakers work to draft the legislation.

“We welcome the department's input and look forward to working closely with them on streamlining NPPD's structure,” he said.

The committee’s bill would rename the NPPD to Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection. It would also create two positions to oversee the new wing: a deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity and a deputy undersecretary for infrastructure protection.

“I'd certainly like to see DHS enhance and prioritize NPPD's cyber mission,” Ratcliffe said. “But I hope DHS will recognize that NPPD's mission is critical and that partnering with Congress, rather than obstruction, will produce a stronger, more effective outcome.” 

A DHS spokesman defended the agency's efforts in a statement late Thursday.

"NPPD is in the planning process of an initiative to become a more unified, agile, and effective organization to better meet the Nation’s needs not only today, but in the future," said S.Y. Lee. "We will closely coordinate these efforts with internal and external stakeholders as we move forward."

— Updated 6:32 p.m.