Dems sound alarm over Trump's proposed cuts to energy office spearheading cybersecurity

Dems sound alarm over Trump's proposed cuts to energy office spearheading cybersecurity

Democrats are raising concerns about the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to a Department of Energy office that plays a role in protecting the U.S. electric grid from cyberattacks. 

President Trump has proposed reducing the Department of Energy’s budget by nearly $2 billion next fiscal year, which would include cuts to the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. 

The office works with state and local governments, as well as the private sector, to secure U.S. energy infrastructure and also spearheads research and development for advanced electricity delivery technologies.

The proposed cuts led Democratic senators to raise concerns on Tuesday over the potential effects to the cybersecurity of the energy sector. 

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“This office, in coordination with our national labs, helps protect our nation’s energy infrastructure from a variety of cyber threats,” Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Watchdog report raises new questions for top Interior lawyer | Senate Democrats ask Trump to withdraw controversial public lands nominee | Border wall water use threatens endangered species, environmentalists say Senate Democrats ask Trump to withdraw controversial public lands nominee Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic MORE (D-N.M.), a member of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said at a hearing Tuesday.

“I am very concerned that the president has proposed significant cuts to the electricity office’s budget that could impair our ability to meet the challenges foreign actors and others present to our energy infrastructure,” Heinrich said.

Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Overnight Defense: Guardsman to testify Lafayette Square clearing was 'unprovoked escalation' | Dems push for controversial Pentagon nominee to withdraw | Watchdog says Pentagon not considering climate change risks to contractors Democrats urge controversial Pentagon policy nominee to withdraw MORE (D-Hawaii) echoed his concerns, questioning a leading official at the office about the potential implications of the cuts to research and development programs. 

“I’m deeply troubled about the potential impact that this proposed funding cut would have to the cybersecurity for energy delivery systems R&D program," Hirono said.

Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenTina Smith wins Democratic Senate primary in Minnesota Poll: Tina Smith's lead over probable GOP challenger within margin of error in Minnesota Senate race CNN publishes first Al Franken op-ed since resignation MORE (D-Minn.) raised similar questions at a hearing last week. 

Patricia Hoffman, the office’s acting assistant secretary, told lawmakers on Tuesday that the details of the new budget would be worked out before the administration's full budget proposal is released in May. She avoided explaining any potential negative impacts of the budget reductions.

The fiscal year 2018 budget blueprint released by the Office of Personnel Management in March slashed the Energy Department budget by $1.7 billion. The proposal stated that funding for the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability and three other department programs would be focused on “limited, early-stage applied energy research and development activities where the federal role is stronger.” 

The cuts would amount to $2 billion in cuts from the current fiscal year. 

While presidential budgets are rarely passed, the blueprint nevertheless sends a message to Congress on what funding the new administration would like to see prioritized. The proposed budget paired deep cuts to agencies like the Energy Department and the State Department with boosts at the departments of Defense and Homeland Security.

Hoffman emphasized on Tuesday that Energy Secretary Rick Perry sees the cybersecurity of the energy sector as a top priority. 

“The Department of Energy is focusing on cybersecurity and resilience of energy delivery systems and this is one of the secretary’s top priorities,” Hoffman said.

Congress passed legislation in 2015 that codified the Energy Department as the lead agency tackling cybersecurity in the energy sector and gave the secretary of Energy the authority to address energy grid emergencies related to cyber and physical attacks as well as electromagnetic pulses or geomagnetic disturbances.