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 Langevin (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).

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 Trump 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 King (I-Maine) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (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 Rounds (R-S.D.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s cybersecurity subcommittee, and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), were also heavily involved in the position’s creation, with both panels holding hearings on the topic earlier this year.

“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 Bolton in 2018.

It is unclear who President-elect Joe Biden 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 Warner (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 Hurd (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.

Tags Angus King Carolyn Maloney cyber czar Donald Trump Jim Langevin Joe Biden John Bolton Mark Warner Mike Gallagher Mike Rounds Will Hurd
See all Hill.TV See all Video