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 McCaulWTA suspends tournaments in China pending investigation into star Peng Shuai's allegations Biden administration resists tougher Russia sanctions in Congress China draws scrutiny over case of tennis star Peng Shuai 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 PompeoNo time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Psaki: Sexism contributes to some criticism of Harris Mnuchin, Pompeo mulled plan to remove Trump after Jan. 6: book 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 TillersonHillicon Valley — Blinken unveils new cyber bureau at State Blinken formally announces new State Department cyber bureau Hillicon Valley — TikTok, Snapchat seek to distance themselves from Facebook 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 MeeksThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Democrats ask what went wrong on Election Day On The Money — Presented by Citi — Pelosi plays hardball with Manchin Pelosi presses ahead on vote without Manchin buy-in MORE (D-N.Y.), along with Reps. Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherHuman rights groups sound alarm over Interpol election China denies it tested missile, says it was space vehicle Biden slips further back to failed China policies MORE (R-Wis.) and Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinFederal agencies ordered to patch hundreds of vulnerabilities Lawmakers praise upcoming establishment of cyber bureau at State Federal first responders deserve the retirement we promised them MORE (D-R.I.).

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 to receive 'regular updates' about Michigan school shooting Biden administration resists tougher Russia sanctions in Congress GOP holds on Biden nominees set back gains for women in top positions MORE, President BidenJoe BidenManchin to vote to nix Biden's vaccine mandate for larger businesses Congress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight Senate cuts deal to clear government funding bill 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.