Legislation to improve the cybersecurity of critical infrastructure has been a much-discussed topic in the last decade during various congressional sessions. Unfortunately, numerous hearings amounted to little more than banter — until now. Last week, several pieces of cybersecurity legislation were sent to the president's desk for signing.
Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) played an important role in advancing three of the new pieces of bipartisan legislation that will become law. Two of the bills he supported are aimed at preventing cyberattacks — the National Cybersecurity Protection Act of 2014 and the Cybersecurity Workforce Assessment Act — and another bill, the Protecting and Securing Chemical Facilities from Terrorist Acts Act of 2014, seeks to enhance physical and cyber protection for chemical facilities.
Meehan is a second-term congressman serving the 7th District of Pennsylvania. As a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, he serves as the chairman of the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies. A former prosecutor, Meehan has rapidly built a reputation as an articulate and effective champion of cybersecurity cooperation between the public and private sectors.
He has also been able to mesh political spectra, as he received the support of both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Civil Liberties Union on perhaps the most significant of the cybersecurity legislation, the National Cybersecurity Protection Act.
The law firm of Covington & Burling succinctly describes the legislation as "codifying the Department of Homeland Security's existing National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC). The NCCIC would provide a platform for the government and private sector to share information about cybersecurity threats, incident response, and technical assistance. The bill requires the Center to include representatives of federal agencies, state and local governments, and private sector owners and operators of critical information systems."
Indeed, a key missing ingredient for progress in cybersecurity capabilities has been the inability of the public and private sectors to share information critical on mitigating threats.
Meehan best characterized what the National Cybersecurity Protection Act does, saying that it "allows government and the private sector to communicate much better in real time ... that is important since 90 percent of the assets in the cyber world are in the private domain." The bill helps establish a framework of cooperation that will be refined and improved as more information, processes and technologies are shared to address the evolving cyber threat landscape.
Another piece of legislation that Meehan played a key role in advancing, the Cybersecurity Workforce Assessment Act, requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary to assess and enhance the department's cybersecurity workforce.
Meehan noted in the Congressional Record that the legislation ”will require the [s]ecretary to assess the cybersecurity workforce currently in DHS and develop a strategy to enhance it. The assessment would look at cyber positions, readiness, training, types of positions, and its ability to carry out its cyber mission, with the ultimate goal of enhancing these capabilities and [producing] a recruitment and implementation plan."
Having worked with Pat Meehan back in the 1990s while I was serving as a senior aide for the late Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), I am not surprised by his ability to reach consensus and make things happen. After all, he was a terrific lawyer and a former NHL referee who had a special ability to balance competing interests. It is very reassuring to have a person of Rep. Meehan's capabilities leading the charge on countering the potentially catastrophic challenges we are all facing in cybersecurity and homeland security.
Brooks serves as vice president/client executive for DHS at Xerox. He served in government at the Department of Homeland Security as the first director of legislative affairs for the Science & Technology Directorate. He also spent six years on Capitol Hill as a senior adviser to the late Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and was an adjunct faculty member at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, where he taught homeland security and Congress. Chuck has an M.A. in international relations from the University of Chicago and a B.A. in political science from DePauw University. He has published on the subjects of innovation, public/private partnerships, emerging technologies and issues of cybersecurity. He can be reached at: Charles.Brooks2@xerox.com, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter @ChuckDBrooks.