Defense policy bill would create new cyber czar position

Defense policy bill would create new cyber czar position
© Greg Nash

The defense policy bill Congress plans to pass this month now includes language that would create a national cyber director at the White House, Rep. 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.) confirmed to The Hill on Thursday.

The cyber czar would be responsible for coordinating federal cybersecurity priorities and would be a Senate-confirmed post.

The provision creating the top post is part of the conference report consolidating the House and Senate versions of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

ADVERTISEMENT

Language establishing the position was included in the House-passed version of the NDAA, but the version approved by the Senate only included a clause requiring an “independent assessment” of the “feasibility” of establishing the role.

With its inclusion in the conference report, which is set to be rolled out Thursday, the provision will almost certainly be included in the measure sent to President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE for his signature after it's passed by Congress.

Langevin, who introduced standalone legislation to create the position earlier this year, credited inclusion of the provision to strong bipartisan support for creating the post.

He praised the efforts of Sen. Angus KingAngus KingRep. Tim Ryan becomes latest COVID-19 breakthrough case in Congress Senate backers of new voting rights bill push for swift passage Stacey Abrams backs Senate Democrats' voting rights compromise MORE (I-Maine) and Rep. Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Afghan evacuation still frustrates Bipartisan momentum builds for war on terror memorial Bipartisan House group introduces legislation to set term limit for key cyber leader MORE (R-Wis.), the co-chairs of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission that recommended the creation of the position to help combat against cyber threats to the U.S. 

Langevin also noted that Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsSenate advances Biden consumer bureau pick after panel logjam The 19 GOP senators who voted for the T infrastructure bill Senate passes T bipartisan infrastructure bill in major victory for Biden MORE (R-S.D.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s cybersecurity subcommittee, and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn MaloneyHouse panel to examine states' abortion restrictions, hear from three congresswomen who've had abortions Overnight Defense & National Security: US-Australian sub deal causes rift with France Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels MORE (D-N.Y.), were also heavily involved in the position’s creation, with both panels holding hearings on the topic earlier this year.

ADVERTISEMENT

“This position gives the person who holds this spot, this position, more gravitas than just a staff person. He or she would have sufficient staff. They get their hands around the challenges they face, a whole of government approach to protect the country in cyberspace,” Langevin said. “This is a major step forward.”

Creating a new White House cyber czar position would mark the reestablishment and elevation of the previous White House cybersecurity coordinator position, which was eliminated by former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonOvernight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right Ex-Trump adviser Bolton defends Milley: 'His patriotism is unquestioned' MORE in 2018.

It is unclear who President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Schumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks GOP Rep. Cawthorn likens vaccine mandates to 'modern-day segregation' MORE would nominate to serve in the position should Trump sign the 2021 NDAA into law with the cyber czar clause.

Langevin called on Biden to consider nominating former officials like Michael Daniel, the former special assistant to President Obama and cybersecurity coordinator on the National Security Council; Suzanne Spaulding, the former director of the predecessor agency to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA); and Chris Inglis, the former deputy director of the National Security Agency.

“Each one of them are just rock stars in their own right with respect to cybersecurity, and any one of them would be a superb choice for national cyber director,” Langevin said.

Daniel told The Hill last month that any person appointed to the position would need to address and rebuild the “atrophied ... cross-agency coordination” on cybersecurity. 

“One of the first issues they are going to have to tackle is rebuilding the coordination mechanisms within the U.S. government,” said Daniel, who is now president and CEO of the Cyber Threat Alliance.

Other members of Congress on Thursday expressed cautious optimism about creating a cyber czar position.

Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDemocrats confront 'Rubik's cube on steroids' Advocates call on top Democrats for 0B in housing investments Democrats draw red lines in spending fight MORE (D-Va.) said during the Aspen Institute’s virtual Cyber Summit that he hoped the position would be established “with enough tools” that would enable the national cyber director to have an effect on the existing federal cybersecurity position.

Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdFirst Democrat jumps into key Texas House race to challenge Gonzales Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Congress drawn into pipeline cyberattack, violence in Israel MORE (R-Texas), a member of the House Intelligence Committee who is retiring at the end of this Congress, said at the same event that he feared “that if you have one centralized place, it takes responsibility off of everyone else to be focused on this unless this person is going to crack the whip and make sure that everyone is playing their part.”

Langevin noted that it was important to establish the position as Senate-confirmed to ensure that it could not be easily eliminated in the future.

“It is a position that needs to survive across administrations and not be subject to the whims of a John Bolton,” he said.