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 McCaulBiden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict More Republicans call on Biden to designate Taliban as terrorist group How lawmakers aided the Afghan evacuation 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: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant Christie, Pompeo named co-chairs of GOP redistricting group America needs a new strategy for Pacific Island Countries 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 TillersonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Supreme Court lets Texas abortion law stand Trump-era ban on travel to North Korea extended Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump 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 MeeksMeeks on being mistaken for a staffer: 'Glad I still blend in with the cool kids' Blinken grilled in first hearing since Afghanistan withdrawal Defense & National Security: The post-airlift evacuation struggle MORE (D-N.Y.), along with Reps. Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherBipartisan House group introduces legislation to set term limit for key cyber leader 20,000 Afghan evacuees housed at military bases in five states: report Absent Democrats give Republicans new opening on Afghanistan MORE (R-Wis.) and Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinBipartisan House group introduces legislation to set term limit for key cyber leader House panel approves B boost for defense budget Democratic lawmakers urge DHS to let Afghans stay in US 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 SullivanClinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Senators slow Biden with holds at Pentagon, State Overnight Defense & National Security: US-Australian sub deal causes rift with France MORE, President BidenJoe BidenCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Biden pushes back at Democrats on taxes 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.