House Armed Services chair presses Pentagon on Cyber Command

House Armed Services chair presses Pentagon on Cyber Command
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The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday pressed a Pentagon official on the proposed change in authority for the U.S. military’s digital force.

“Isn’t it time for Cyber Command to stand on its own as a combatant command?” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) asked Thomas Atkin, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security, during a hearing on military cyber operations. 

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“I think the short answer to that is 'yes.' I think we are getting close to a decision and will be getting something to the president in the near future,” Atkin said.

At issue is whether the unit — currently under the authority of U.S. Strategic Command — should be elevated to a full-fledged warfighting combatant command. The division achieved full operational capability in 2010, Thornberry noted.

But while there is widespread agreement that the unit should at some point exist under its own umbrella, the timing has become a point of tension between the administration and House lawmakers.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing to statutorily elevate the unit in the conferenced version of the annual defense policy bill, after the House-passed version included language making the change.

But the White House argues 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.”

Thornberry on Wednesday urged the Defense Department to reach a conclusion quickly.

“We’re trying to help you along,” he said, referring to the language in the House-passed version of the National Defense Authorization Act. “I have yet to hear a reason not to do it. It seems to me we shouldn’t stew around about this too long.”

But he moved on relatively quickly from the subject. The committee is scheduled to receive its quarterly classified cyber update at 2 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon.