Senators question need for HHS cyber office

Senators question need for HHS cyber office

A bipartisan pair of lawmakers is questioning President Trump’s health chief on the need for a new cybersecurity office focused on the healthcare sector.

Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senator seeking information on FBI dealings with Bruce Ohr, former DOJ lawyer Election Countdown: O'Rourke brings in massive M haul | Deal on judges lets senators return to the trail | Hurricane puts Florida candidates in the spotlight | Adelson spending big to save GOP in midterms Senate Homeland chair vents Mueller probe is preventing panel from receiving oversight answers MORE (R-Wis.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillElection Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach Dems outraising Republicans in final stretch of midterms Election Countdown: Cruz, O'Rourke fight at pivotal point | Ryan hitting the trail for vulnerable Republicans | Poll shows Biden leading Dem 2020 field | Arizona Senate debate tonight MORE (D-Mo.) both raised concerns at a hearing Wednesday that the new information-sharing effort at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) could be duplicating functions of a separate organization within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Chris Wlaschin, the chief information security officer at HHS, previewed the effort in April. He described it as a health-focused version of the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) at the DHS and said it would be operational this month.


The HHS office, called the Health Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (HCCIC), is funded in the administration’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal under the $72 million allotted for the department’s cybersecurity efforts.

Johnson and McCaskill, who lead the Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee, wrote to HHS Secretary Tom Price on Wednesday asking for more information about the center, including documents demonstrating the need for it.

“We are interested in learning more about the HCCIC’s purpose and how it will interact with the NCCIC, the rest of the federal government, and the private sector without duplicating efforts already underway by the Department of Homeland Security,” they wrote.

The inquiry followed an oversight hearing during which both senators raised concerns about the possibility that the initiative could be duplicating efforts of the DHS center.

“You have different agencies of government asking the same questions,” Johnson observed.

In 2015, Congress passed legislation designating the DHS as the hub for sharing information on cyber threats with the private sector.

Wlaschin said during an April health forum in Washington that the center would be just like the DHS information-sharing office, “only focused on healthcare.”

“We’ve provided grants to the National Health Information Sharing and Analysis Center to encourage a broad participation … that not just tries to reduce the noise — there’s so much noise out there about cyber threats to security and privacy — but to analyze those and deliver best practices and the two or three things that a small provider, a small office, a doc in a box can do to protect his patient’s privacy and information security around those systems,” he said, according to Federal News Radio.

The senators asked Price for a response by mid-July.