Senate passes key cyber bill cementing cybersecurity agency at DHS

Senate passes key cyber bill cementing cybersecurity agency at DHS
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The Senate on Wednesday passed a key cyber bill that solidifies the Department of Homeland Security’s role as the main federal agency overseeing civilian cybersecurity.

Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanOvernight Defense: Esper sworn in as Pentagon chief | Confirmed in 90-8 vote | Takes helm as Trump juggles foreign policy challenges | Senators meet with woman accusing defense nominee of sexual assault Alarm sounds over census cybersecurity concerns Senate sets new voting record with Iran war measure MORE (R-Alaska) asked for “unanimous consent” to pass the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Act, a bipartisan bill that will establish a cybersecurity agency that is the same stature as other units within DHS.

The legislation, which has not been viewed as particularly contentious, passed the House easily last year, but stalled for several months in the Senate. Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senators call for Barr to release full results of Epstein investigation FBI Agents Association calls on Congress to make 'domestic terrorism' a federal crime Senators renew request for domestic threats documents from FBI, DOJ after shootings MORE (R-Wis.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillEx-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Ocasio-Cortez blasts NYT editor for suggesting Tlaib, Omar aren't representative of Midwest Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (D-Mo.), the leaders of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, successfully moved it through the upper chamber on Wednesday.

The bill will rebrand DHS’s main cybersecurity unit known as National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) as the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection Agency, spinning the headquarters office out into a full-fledged operational component of DHS on the same level as Secret Service or FEMA.

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NPPD's top cyber official, Christopher Krebs, would become the cyber agency's director under this bill.

NPPD is responsible for securing federal networks and protecting critical infrastructure from cyber and physical threats.

NPPD has seen its responsibilities rapidly expand in the decade since its inception, most recently taking the lead on engaging with states to protect digital election infrastructure from sabotage following Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The Senate made some differences in the House-passed bill, including amendments from Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe Hill's Morning Report - Progressives, centrists clash in lively Democratic debate Senate braces for brawl over Trump's spy chief Congress kicks bipartisan energy innovation into higher gear MORE (R-Alaska) and a substitute amendment from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). This means the legislation will have to be sent back to the lower chamber for approval before it arrives at the president's desk.

Top DHS officials have been pushing for the bill to pass, arguing it would better communicate their mission to the private sector and help DHS recruit top cyber talent.

DHS Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenTrump casts uncertainty over top intelligence role Juan Williams: Trump, his allies and the betrayal of America Trump taps Texas Rep. Ratcliffe to replace Dan Coats as top intelligence official MORE recently said the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Act would recognize the "importance" of the agency's mission.

"We are responsible for federal efforts when it comes to both protecting critical infrastructure, working with the owner-operators in private sector, and protecting all those civilian dot govs," Nielsen told The Washington Post on Tuesday during a livestreamed interview.

"To do that, we have to have both a name that indicates that is what we do, and we have to be able to streamline the organization so that we can become more operational.”

Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulTrump moves forward with F-16 sale to Taiwan opposed by China Top Foreign Affairs Republican: 'It would benefit all of us' for Omar, Tlaib to visit Israel Trump imposes new sanctions on Russia over chemical weapons use MORE (R-Texas), head of the House Homeland Security Committee Chairman, introduced the bill, which has bipartisan support.

“I am thrilled that the Senate passed this critical, bipartisan legislation and I look forward to championing CISA through its final step in Congress before heading to the President’s desk," McCaul said in a statement to The Hill.

McCaul said this will help the agency combat hackers and hostile nation states that are "finding new ways to attack our cyber infrastructure and expose vulnerabilities."

Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffePresident Trump is right: Mainstream media 'do a very good job' New intel chief inherits host of challenges Hoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post MORE (R-Texas), head of the House Homeland's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection subcommittee, also praised the bill's passage. 

“As the culmination of years of rigorous oversight by the House Homeland Security’s cybersecurity subcommittee, CISA will define our nation’s leading cybersecurity agency as a standalone operational organization clearly tasked with deploying DHS’ cybersecurity and infrastructure security missions," Ratcliffe wrote in a statement.

-- Morgan Chalfant contributed. Updated 10:13 p.m.