DHS head pushes cyber reorganization

Greg Nash

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson this week stumped for a proposed reorganization of the division of his agency responsible for protecting critical infrastructure from digital threats.

{mosads}“We’ve asked for a reorganization from Congress,” Johnson told the Senate Judiciary Committee during a Thursday hearing on oversight of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). “I know the House Homeland Committee is considering it and possibly drafting language. And if this is something the Senate would consider, I think it would go a long way to addressing both cyber and the protection of critical infrastructure.”

Specifically, Johnson wants to replace the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) within the DHS with a new operational agency tasked with protecting the computer networks that run the nation’s power grid, water utilities and more.

The agency, along with many lawmakers, see the move as way to smooth bureaucratic barriers within the DHS.

But the proposed reorganization, in the works for over a year, has been a point of tension between the agency and Congress.

An administration proposal leaked to the media over the summer drew ire from members who criticized the agency for pushing forward with the reorganization without involving lawmakers.

The House Homeland Security Committee last month advanced a bill that would order the proposed reorganization, but it differs from the administration profile in one key way.

The DHS wants to integrate responsibility for cyber and physical security across the agency. The House Homeland Security bill would keep the cyber division separate from the agency’s mission to guard against physical threats.

Johnson plugged the agency proposal on Thursday.

“We need an agency for cybersecurity that directly aligns the cybersecurity function with the critical infrastructure function,” he told senators. “So that’s what this concept is designed to do, a more streamlined effort to align cyber with the critical infrastructure.”

House lawmakers have stuck to their position, however.

“[The bill] provides a strong structure for the organization, improves collaboration between its divisions and elevates the cybersecurity mission, while also ensuring that mechanisms are in place for robust Congressional oversight,” Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) said in a June statement.

In the upper chamber, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, has floated a draft proposal that hews closely to the administration proposal. 

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