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House passes Homeland Security cyber overhaul bill

House passes Homeland Security cyber overhaul bill
© Greg Nash

House lawmakers have passed legislation that would reorganize the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity mission.

The House passed the legislation, which is spearheaded by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulSenate passes key cyber bill cementing cybersecurity agency at DHS Hillicon Valley: Trump stuns with election interference claim against China | FCC limits fees for 5G | Uber reaches 8M settlement over breach | Fox sells Sky stake to Comcast | House passes bills to fix cyber vulnerabilities Sessions calls on former colleagues to send drone legislation to Trump's desk MORE (R-Texas), by a voice vote Monday evening.

The bill would reorganize the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) at Homeland Security, elevating it into its own operational agency. The NPPD is responsible for securing federal networks and U.S. critical infrastructure from cyber and physical threats.

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Homeland Security’s cybersecurity efforts have attracted particular attention this year, as officials at the department have taken the lead on reaching out to state and local officials to protect voter databases and other election infrastructure from cyberattacks. 

Officials in both the Obama and Trump administrations have voiced the need for an overhaul at the NPPD, which is currently a component within Homeland Security headquarters. 

The legislation would rename the NPPD the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, a standalone agency to handle cyber and critical infrastructure protection. 

The measure is the result of months of discussions between lawmakers on Capitol Hill and U.S. officials about a prospective NPPD overhaul.

McCaul introduced similar legislation last Congress, but it never advanced to the floor for a vote. At the time, there were disagreements between lawmakers and officials around how the new operational agency should be organized.

During a markup of the bill over the summer, McCaul said the legislation “will allow [the agency] to become more streamlined and effective in carrying out existing authorities while achieving the department’s goal of creating a stand-alone operational organization focusing on and elevating the vital cybersecurity and infrastructure security missions.” 

The bill’s pathway in the Senate is uncertain; currently, no companion legislation has been offered.

The vote comes about a week after the department got a new leader in Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenEx-lawmaker urges Americans to publicly confront officials Migrant caravan expands to 5000 DHS to 'closely monitor' caravan of migrants headed for US border MORE, whom President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Gillum and DeSantis’s first debate GOP warns economy will tank if Dems win Gorbachev calls Trump's withdrawal from arms treaty 'a mistake' MORE chose to serve as Homeland Security secretary in October.

John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE initially helmed the department but moved to the White House to serve as Trump's chief of staff at the end of July. Nielsen, a cybersecurity expert, served at Homeland Security and then as Trump's deputy chief of staff in the new administration. 

Nielsen praised the passage of the legislation in a statement Monday evening, and urged the Senate to pass a similar bill. 

"Our nation’s critical infrastructure can often be prime targets for adversaries of all types, including terrorists, nation state and other non-state actors, hackers, and ordinary criminals," Nielsen said. "As the threat landscape shifts and becomes more complex, our approach to security must evolve."

"I want to personally thank Chairman McCaul for his tireless work to reach this important milestone in furtherance of the Department of Homeland Security’s mission," Nielsen continued. "This legislation, which has bipartisan support, has been a priority of this administration from day one. I look forward to continuing to work with Congress to move this important legislation forward."

This post was updated on Tuesday at 11:08 a.m. to reflect comment from Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.