Lawmakers advocate for establishment of standalone House and Senate cyber panels

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Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle Wednesday argued for the need to establish standalone cybersecurity committees in the House and Senate to address mounting threats and streamline an increasingly bogged down process to approve legislation. 

“No committee wants to give up an ounce of its jurisdiction, and cyber is scattered all over the Congress,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said during a panel at the Aspen Institute’s Cyber Summit on Wednesday. 

King, a key supporter of cybersecurity legislation in the Senate and a co-chair of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, noted that in order to get 25 cyber-related amendments into last year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), clearances from 180 committees, subcommittees and members had to first be obtained. 

“It’s just a long slog, if you want to get a bill in somewhere, you’ve got to get clearance from the Republican side, the Democratic side on four or five different committees, that’s just in the nature of the legislative process,” King said.

The Cyberspace Solarium Commission is composed of lawmakers, federal officials and industry members, and last year put out a set of recommendations to defend the nation against cyber threats. While many of the recommendations have now been implemented, including the creation of a national cyber director position at the White House, the recommendation by the commission to streamline the committees with jurisdiction has faced opposition. 

House Homeland Security Committee ranking member John Katko (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), chair of the committee’s cybersecurity subcommittee, appeared on the same panel as King Wednesday, agreeing with the need to streamline jurisdiction in the face of mounting threats. 

“Clearly the territorial disputes that can arise do arise and do throw some cogs in the wheel,” Clarke said. “I agree with Senator King that it would be great to move towards a select committee specifically around cyber, I think that we are lagging in that space.”

“I am with you 100 percent senator, if we could begin a bicameral campaign to establish a select committee, I am all on board for that, because indeed we are dealing with layered threats,” she added. “We don’t feel the entire blow of it, but we are one step away from perhaps the grid going down.”

Katko agreed, and praised the creation of a national cyber director office at the White House to help tie cybersecurity policies together in the absence of centralized committees. 

“I think a select committee would be great, because I think cyber is a preeminent threat like I said, and it crosses all sectors,” he said. “That cyber director to me is someone who can really bridge the gap, and unless and until we have a select committee, look at the panoply of the threat and give the advice accordingly.”

Lawmakers have zeroed in on the need to shore up the nation’s cybersecurity over the past year, as major attacks have piled up. These have included nation-state attacks, such as the Russian-backed SolarWinds hack last year, and ransomware attacks against groups critical to key supply chains, such as attacks on Colonial Pipeline and meat producer JBS USA in May.

The wide jurisdiction over cybersecurity has been highlighted by legislative efforts to created a national mandatory cyber incident reporting standard, with the Senate Homeland Security, Senate Intelligence, and House Homeland Security panels introducing separate bills on the topic.

King emphasized that while there were benefits to creating separate cybersecurity subcommittees, it had not completely prevented progress, pointing to the inclusion of cyber provisions in last year’s NDAA. 

“If we were a major league baseball player hitting 400, we’d be pretty happy on the free agency market,” King said. “It is frustrating, it does take time, it’s a messy, sometimes difficult process, but on the other hand, you get a lot of input and it improves the bill. I don’t want to sound like it’s impossible, because we’ve gotten an amazing amount done in the last year.”

Tags Angus King cybersecurity John Katko Yvette Clarke

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