House defense bill elevates cyber force, defying White House

House defense bill elevates cyber force, defying White House

The defense authorization bill that cleared the House on Wednesday would elevate the U.S. military’s cyber unit to a standalone warfighting entity — despite direct opposition from the White House.

The House passed the bill by a 277-147 margin late Wednesday.

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U.S. Cyber Command is currently under the authority of Strategic Command, meaning it must obtain permission before it conducts cyber operations.

But the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would make Cyber Command its own unified command unit.

The move is a nod to the increasing importance that cyber actions are playing in U.S. defense operations — Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said recently that the U.S. is “dropping cyber bombs” on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

It also had widespread support from lawmakers who were skeptical that the unit should remain under the roof of the National Security Agency (NSA), where it currently shares a commander with the spy agency.

The White House, however, has pushed back against the move, arguing that the secretary of Defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “should retain the flexibility to recommend to the President changes to the unified command plan that they believe would most effectively organize the military to address an ever-evolving threat environment.”

Cyber Command head Adm. Michael Rogers supports designating his unit as a unified combatant command — he stumped for the move during a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing — but said it is premature to shift the unit away from the NSA in 2017.

“I agree in the long run. But the reality is we’re just not ready to do that today,” Rogers said, noting that the unit’s structure was established six years ago to take advantage of NSA resources.

But elevating the unit to a full combatant command would help prioritize cyber during the budgeting process, while making Cyber Command more nimble, Rogers said.

“A combatant commander designation would allow us to be faster, which would generate better mission outcomes,” he told the committee.

In the Senate, Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP senators appalled by 'ridiculous' House infighting MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace, Chris Christie battle over Fox News Trump's attacks on McConnell seen as prelude to 2024 White House bid MORE (R-Arz.) has already signaled his support for the idea, as has ranking member Jack ReedJack ReedOvernight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table Senate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo Senate GOP expected to block defense bill amid stalemate MORE (D-R.I.) and other members of the committee.

“If we move in the direction, which I think we are, of setting up Cyber Command as its own independent combatant command, to have the same person trying to run those two agencies I just think is impractical and almost impossible,” Sen. Angus KingAngus KingAmazon, Facebook, other large firms would pay more under proposed minimum tax, Warren's office says Senators look to defense bill to move cybersecurity measures Energy information chief blames market for high fuel prices MORE (I-Maine) said during the April hearing.

The upper chamber’s version of the NDAA passed out of committee last week.

The House bill authorizes $610 billion for Pentagon programs and spending overall. It passed on a bipartisan basis, with 237 Republicans and 40 Democrats voting in favor, and five Republicans and 142 Democrats voting against.

The White House issued a veto threat on the bill on Monday over a number of provisions.