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 McCainTrump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' The Hill's Morning Report - Democratic debates: Miami nice or spice? Trump pick brings scrutiny to 'revolving door' between Pentagon, industry MORE (R-Arz.) has already signaled his support for the idea, as has ranking member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedTrump urged to quickly fill Pentagon post amid Iran tensions Overnight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Shanahan drama shocks Capitol Hill, leaving Pentagon rudderless 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 Stanley KingOvernight Energy: New EPA rule could expand officials weighing in on FOIA requests | Trump plan to strip conservation fund gets bipartisan pushback | Agriculture chief downplays climate concerns Trump plan to strip public land conservation fund gets bipartisan pushback Senator takes spontaneous roadtrip with strangers after canceled flight 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.