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 SullivanPelosi, McConnell clash over next coronavirus bill GOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus GOP senators urge Saudi Arabia to leave OPEC 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 JohnsonRemembering Tom Coburn's quiet persistence Coronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner GOP seeks up to 0 billion to maximize financial help to airlines, other impacted industries MORE (R-Wis.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillGOP lukewarm on talk of airline bailout Claire McCaskill: Ron Johnson is an 'embarrassing tool' To winnow primary field, Obama and other Democrats must speak out  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 MurkowskiOil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves GOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus Murkowski pushes Mnuchin for oil company loans 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 NielsenHillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 Sen. Kennedy slams acting DHS secretary for lack of coronavirus answers The 'accidental director' on the front line of the fight for election security 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 McCaulGraham asks colleagues to support call for China to close wet markets China sees chance to expand global influence amid pandemic Hillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike 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 RatcliffeGOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post Acting director of National Counterterrorism Center fired: report Acting director of national intelligence begins hiring freeze: reports 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.