DHS secretary cites cyber 'pandemic' in call for Congress to pass stalled legislation

DHS secretary cites cyber 'pandemic' in call for Congress to pass stalled legislation
© Greg Nash

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenUS to prioritize attacks against foreign adversaries under new cyber strategy Paddlers sue Trump over frequent golf visits shutting down the Potomac River FEMA administrator nearly quit amid feud with DHS chief: report MORE on Wednesday urged lawmakers to pass legislation to reorganize a DHS cyber division as a full-fledged agency as the measure struggles to gain support in the Senate.

Nielsen said during an event at George Washington University that cyber threats have moved from an “epidemic” to a “pandemic,” and called on Congress to pass legislation to rename DHS’s National Protection and Programs Directorate, or NPPD, as the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

Nielsen said that DHS lacks the ability to organize itself to fully respond to those seeking assistance or to collaborate on a variety of cyber issues.

“We have to get it done,” she said, adding that passing the legislation “shouldn’t be controversial.”

Nielsen also said during her prepared remarks that DHS is facing a “roadblock” to addressing cyber threats without the bill’s passage, adding that the department “wasn’t built for a digital pandemic.”

“Today I ask Congress again to pass legislation immediately and absolutely before the year ends,” she said.

NPPD has been at the forefront of DHS's efforts to combat foreign interference in U.S. elections.

The bill to reorganize it, which would amplify the efforts of the department’s key cyber division, easily passed the House last year, but has since stalled in the Senate.

Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonKavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow House panel advances DHS cyber vulnerabilities bills MORE (R-Wis.) is leading the charge to get the legislation through the Senate. However, the measure is currently included in a larger package to reauthorize DHS, and sources told The Hill last month that tying it to the other bills makes it more difficult to pass.