DHS searching for ‘all-star’ to head cyber hub

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told senators Tuesday he will hire “a recognized all-star” to head his department’s cybersecurity hub, as Congress considers whether to put the agency in charge of the public-private exchange of cyber threat data.

Capitol Hill and the White House have made a major push this year to pass legislation that would encourage companies to share cyber threat data with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

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Under two House-passed bills and the Senate’s companion offering, the department’s cyber center — known as the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) — would become the government’s main intake facility for private sector cybersecurity information.

But the center currently has no permanent head. The previous director, Larry Zelvin, retired last August after three decades in government spent helping businesses thwart malicious hackers.

Testifying during a Senate Judiciary Committee DHS oversight hearing, Johnson emphasized the need to rectify the situation. The position is still being advertised on government job boards.

“My goal is to make the NCCIC a 24-7 cybersecurity operations center that brings together government and business,” Johnson told lawmakers.

Johnson said last week he believes the agency will make the hire “soon.” 

“Our NCCIC is intended to be the primary interface of the federal government with the private sector,” he told Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseFeinstein 'surprised and taken aback' by suggestion she's not up for Supreme Court fight Hillicon Valley: Murky TikTok deal raises questions about China's role | Twitter investigating automated image previews over apparent algorithmic bias | House approves bill making hacking federal voting systems a crime House approves legislation making hacking voting systems a federal crime MORE (D-R.I.) Tuesday in response to a question on cyber roles within the administration.

Whitehouse praised the NCCIC as "a well-regarded facility." 

Johnson also reiterated he is “largely supportive” of the cyber threat-sharing bills under consideration on Capitol Hill.

The administration has previously expressed hesitations about privacy provisions in the bills, but seems to be coming around as lawmakers continue to tweak the language. Civil liberties advocates maintain the bills will shuttle more personal data to the National Security Agency.

“Frankly some legislation is better than no legislation,” he said. “I think that information-sharing between the private sector and the government is crucial.”

Although the House passed its two threat-sharing bills last week, the Senate’s timeline to vote on its own offering is unclear.

Together, the measures would shield companies from legal liability when sharing cybersecurity information with the DHS.