Lawmakers demand DHS reveal cyber reorganization plans

House Homeland Security Committee members are demanding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) be more transparent with proposed reorganization efforts that involve several cybersecurity offices.

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During a Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, Chairman John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) criticized the agency for pushing forward with a leaked reorganization proposal without involving lawmakers.

“Several members of the committee and I were very disappointed to find out about this proposal through leaked reports in the media,” Ratcliffe said. “The committee only received a briefing after these reports in the press, and unfortunately, only minimal details of the reorganization effort after several requests have been provided in the time since.

“Even more disappointing, the committee has heard that DHS leadership had planned to move forward unilaterally on several efforts without Congressional review or approval,” Ratcliffe added.

Members from both sides of the aisle echoed Ratcliffe’s criticism.

“I’m really disappointed that we had to get here the way that we got here,” Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) said. “I think it’s due to a lack of communication. What I hope it’s not is dismissing our role and our authority and responsibility to make sure the people of this country are protected.”

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.

NPPD Under Secretary Suzanne Spaulding insisted that the department’s plans were leaked to the media “prematurely” and that the agency has tried to ensure that Congress has been informed at appropriate junctures throughout the process.

Lawmakers pressed Spaulding to commit to involving the lawmakers in its reorganization efforts.

“Just so we’re clear, do you agree with me that DHS can’t move forward on at least certain parts of this reorganization without Congressional authorization under the Homeland Security Act?” Ratcliffe pressed.

“Absolutely,” Spaulding answered, confirming that DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson agreed.

Spaulding was explicitly conciliatory throughout the hearing, emphasizing that her agency intended to work with lawmakers throughout the ongoing development of its plans.

In mid-September, committee members sent a letter to the agency demanding more detail on the leaked proposal that surfaced over the summer.

“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,” the letter read.

Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) referenced the letter on Wednesday and admonished that any reorganization “should be done in full collaboration with the Congress and specifically with this committee.”

The comments come amid a broader push by committee members to increase Congressional direction over DHS. It has shepherded through a number of pieces of legislation aimed at reforming the agency.

On Tuesday, the House passed a bill brought by committee member Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) requiring DHS to develop a formal cybersecurity strategy.

“For far too long, key elements of DHS have operated without proper direction from Congress and we will continue to find a way DHS can operate more efficiently to safeguard our nation,” McCaul said in a Sept. 30 statement.