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Lawmakers criticize Trump's slashed budget for key federal cyber agency

Lawmakers criticize Trump's slashed budget for key federal cyber agency
© Greg Nash

The bipartisan leaders of the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday sharply criticized the proposed drop in funding in President TrumpDonald TrumpDemocrats, activists blast reported Trump DOJ effort to get journalists' phone records Arizona secretary of state gets security detail over death threats surrounding election audit Trump admin got phone records of WaPo reporters covering Russia probe: report MORE’s budget for the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber agency.

The lawmakers particularly took issue with the proposed funding cut due to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) role as a key federal office tasked with defending the nation against cyber threats like those that can take place during an election. 

“Despite bipartisan support for increasing CISA’s cybersecurity budget, the President’s Budget cuts it by about over $150 million,” Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric RichmondBiden set to flex clemency powers Democrats confront difficult prospects for midterms White House officials meet virtually with criminal justice reform advocates MORE (D-La.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s cyber panel, said during a committee hearing on CISA’s proposed budget on Wednesday.

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Richmond noted that he did not understand how a “cut of that magnitude” would enable American communities to defend themselves against cyberattacks such as the plague of ransomware attacks in 2019 that were devastating to city governments nationwide, including Baltimore and New Orleans.

CISA, which was previously the National Protection and Programs Directorate, was created by a measure signed into law by President Trump at the end of 2018.

CISA now bills itself as the “nation’s risk adviser,” and is the key agency that coordinates with state and local officials on election security. It also puts out alerts on threats to key industries, such as the electric sector or chemical facilities, and in January coordinated the response to increased cyber threats from Iran due to the targeting and killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. 

President Trump’s fiscal 2021 budget proposes that CISA be given $1.78 billion to address issues like ransomware, protecting critical networks from attacks and defending U.S. elections, among other issues. 

CISA was given $2 billion by Congress as part of the appropriations process for fiscal year 2020, which was over $300 million more than it received in 2019. 

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With a proposed cut for CISA of over $250 million going into next year, Richmond’s counterpart on the cyber subcommittee, Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoHillicon Valley: US, UK authorities say Russian hackers exploited Microsoft vulnerabilities | Lawmakers push for more cyber funds in annual appropriations | Google child care workers ask for transportation stipend Lawmakers push for increased cybersecurity funds in annual appropriations America's Jewish communities are under attack — Here are 3 things Congress can do MORE (R-N.Y.), also expressed concerns. 

“Cutting CISA’s budget is really not a good idea at all, in fact the opposite is true, we need to expand your resources so you can better handle emerging threats,” Katko said. 

The leaders of the full House Homeland Security Committee had concerns as well. 

Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonBiden administration, Congress unite in effort to tackle ransomware attacks First migrant families reunited in 'beginning' of larger effort Biden takes quick action on cyber in first 100 days MORE (D-Miss.) wrote in prepared remarks that “Congress and the public have never demanded more of CISA,” while he called out Trump for slashing the agency’s budget. 

“The Trump Administration has never provided Congress with a candid assessment of how much funding is necessary for CISA to accommodate the increased demands for its services,” Thompson said. He noted that the White House has not had a cybersecurity coordinator that would help balance CISA’s responsibilities for more than two years since the position was eliminated. 

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Rep. Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersFive questions about Biden withdrawal from Afghanistan Congress brings back corrupt, costly, and inequitably earmarks Biden defense budget criticized by Republicans, progressives alike MORE (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the committee, said that he was “disappointed” by the proposed budget due to CISA’s work to combat threats from countries such as Russia and Iran and other emerging concerns. 

“I’m very concerned these cuts will undermine CISA’s ability to successfully carry out its critical mission,” Rogers said.

But the agency’s director, Christopher Krebs, testified that the cut in the budget was only made because 2021 was based off of the 2019 budget. This decision, according to Krebs, was because the agency did not receive funding for 2020 until this past December, and the White House finalized its proposal for 2021 at an earlier date before the funds were distributed.  

Despite this, Krebs noted that “there is plenty of room for investment.”

“With more I can always do more, whatever you are able to appropriate we will be able to implement and execute against,” Krebs said.