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Lawmakers to roll out legislation reorganizing State cyber office

Lawmakers to roll out legislation reorganizing State cyber office
© Greg Nash

A group of bipartisan lawmakers led by House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulSunday shows preview: Biden foreign policy in focus as Dem tensions boil up back home Senate bill would add visas, remove hurdles to program for Afghans who helped US House Democrats press key GOP senator to release hold on aid to Palestinians MORE (R-Texas) will reintroduce legislation Tuesday intended to increase the ability of the State Department to address international cybersecurity cooperation issues. 

The Cyber Diplomacy Act, first introduced in 2017, would require the State Department to open a Bureau of International Cyberspace Policy. The head of the new office would be appointed by the president and given the rank of ambassador. The position would report directly to either the Secretary of State or a deputy. 

The bureau would be tasked with leading the agency’s cybersecurity efforts, including through creating an international strategy to guide efforts by the United States to engage with other nations on cybersecurity issues and set norms on responsible behavior in cyberspace. 

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The bill was introduced a month after former Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoSunday shows preview: Biden foreign policy in focus as Dem tensions boil up back home Sunday shows preview: Infrastructure expected to dominate as talks continue to drag The triumph and tragedy of 1989: Why Tiananmen still matters MORE announced the establishment of the Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) in the final days of the Trump administration.

The office was meant to fill the void left by former Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonHouse passes legislation to elevate cybersecurity at the State Department Biden's is not a leaky ship of state — not yet With salami-slicing and swarming tactics, China's aggression continues MORE’s decision to merge the State Department’s Office of the Cyber Coordinator with another office. 

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, including McCaul, immediately pushed back over the past month amid concerns that CSET was rushed through and not organized in a way that best promotes cyber diplomacy efforts. A State Department spokesperson told The Hill earlier this month that CSET was being reexamined in terms of its “mission and scope.”

A spokesperson for McCaul told The Hill that they had discussed the new legislation with the State Department, and that they were “optimistic the Cyber Diplomacy Act can be instructive” as CSET gets set up. 

The legislation is also sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksFresh hurdles push timeline on getting China bill to Biden White House pressed on evacuating Afghan allies as time runs out Meeks introduces legislation to boost American diplomacy to counter China MORE (D-N.Y.), along with Reps. Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherBiden budget includes 0M to help agencies recover from SolarWinds hack in proposed budget GOP lawmaker calls for Wuhan probe to 'prevent the next pandemic' Lawmakers introduce bill to protect critical infrastructure against cyberattacks MORE (R-Wis.) and Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinColonial Pipeline may use recovered ransomware attack funds to boost cybersecurity New Russian hacks spark calls for tougher Biden actions Biden budget includes 0M to help agencies recover from SolarWinds hack in proposed budget MORE (D-R.I.).

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The legislation will at least initially move quickly, with the House Foreign Affairs Committee including the bill on its list of items set to be discussed during its first markup of the year later this week. 

Langevin, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s newly created cybersecurity subcommittee, told The Hill earlier this month that he had spoken with Jake SullivanJake SullivanBiden meets with UK's Johnson ahead of G-7 Biden, UK's Johnson to unveil renewed Atlantic Charter Biden must get tough on China's forced-labor industries, including solar MORE, President BidenJoe BidenEx-Biden adviser says Birx told him she hoped election turned out 'a certain way' Cheney rips Arizona election audit: 'It is an effort to subvert democracy' News leaders deal with the post-Trump era MORE’s national security advisor, on the need to reorganize the cyber bureau at the State Department. 

“The Trump administration, they were a train wreck when it came to international cyber diplomacy and policy,” Langevin said at the time. “We ceded a lot of ground to our enemies and adversaries and international policymaking entities.”

Advocates for the legislation have increasingly cited the need for better organization at the State Department to confront cybersecurity threats in the wake of what has become known as the SolarWinds breach. The massive Russian cyber espionage compromised much of the federal government, including the State Department, for over a year. 

President Biden last week called on the U.S. and other democratic nations to create “rules” on cyber and tech issues, particularly in confronting threats from both Russia and China. 

“Addressing Russian recklessness and hacking into computer networks in the United States and across Europe and the world has become critical to protecting our collective security,” Biden said during the virtual Munich Security Conference.