Senate bill seeks to boost cyber oversight

A bipartisan pair of senators wants to boost cybersecurity oversight at federal agencies after a series of mammoth digital thefts that have rattled the government.

Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears MORE (R-Utah) and Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs EPA finalizes rule cutting use of potent greenhouse gas used in refrigeration The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - US speeds evacuations as thousands of Americans remain in Afghanistan MORE (D-Del.) on Wednesday introduced the Federal Computer Security Act.

The measure would require inspectors general to submit a report on their agency’s security practices to Congress. It would also mandate a Government Accountability Office report that gives an economic analysis of the barriers agencies face when trying to implement proper cyber defenses.  

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The bill “will shine light on whether our federal agencies are using the most up-to-date security practices and software to safeguard our nation’s most sensitive information,” said Hatch, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee.

The measure comes on the heels of digital intrusions at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

At the IRS, hackers successfully imitated taxpayers, making off with more than 100,000 people’s returns. Months later, it was revealed that digital thieves had taken more than 22 million people’s sensitive data after cracking two separate OPM databases.

“Given the recent federal data breaches, this bill is critical to getting our computer networks in order and to promoting good cyber hygiene across the federal government,” Hatch said.

The incidents have spurred a number of cyber legislative efforts in Congress.

Carper, the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is also backing a bill with Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonLiberal group launches campaign urging Republicans to support Biden's agenda Domestic extremists return to the Capitol GOP senator: Buying Treasury bonds 'foolish' amid standoff over debt ceiling, taxes MORE (R-Wis.), the committee’s chairman.

“The troubling reality is that cyberattacks and intrusions continue to occur at an increasing rate, and federal agencies need to be better prepared,” Carper said on Wednesday.

The Carper-Johnson measure, the Federal Cybersecurity Enhancement Act, would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) considerable powers to defend government networks from hackers. It would authorize a speedy rollout of a DHS program that serves as an anti-hacking shield for agencies. The measure would also give the department authority to investigate and monitor agencies networks without a formal request.

The Homeland Security Committee approved the bill last week.

Carper said his bill with Hatch will complement his recent work with Johnson.

“This legislation builds on our ongoing efforts to bolster the federal government’s cyber defenses by adding another important layer of oversight to make sure agencies are doing all that they can to protect their critical networks and to ensure that sensitive information is properly secured,” he said.