Can Michael Daniel make a difference?

As might be fitting considering he comes from an intelligence role, Michael Daniel is something of a mystery to the wider federal IT community.

Daniel, who joined the Office of Management and Budget in 1995, currently heads the agency’s intelligence branch in the National Security Division. That branch has oversight of budget and management responsibilities for the intelligence community, including the National Intelligence Program, the Military Intelligence Program, and other classified activities.  He has been tapped to take over from Howard Schmidt, who is stepping down as White House cybersecurity coordinator.

Daniel previously served as an examiner in OMB's National Security Division’s Operations branch reviewing Navy and Marine Corps operational activities and overseas military operations.

It’s perhaps all those years in intell that have made Daniel somewhat of an enigma to many in the federal IT community. Calls and emails to industry experts yielded few results, one after another source saying they know little about Daniel.

Jim Lewis, fellow and director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who is himself unfamiliar with Daniel, said others have said “really good things about him."

Coming from the intell portfolio to working with cybersecurity will serve Daniel well as the two are closely connected, Lewis said. “It’s a good sign that they picked an insider who knows the system, has strong knowledge of the area and knows all the open-kimono stories of how bad it is,” he said.

However, Daniel’s most pressing challenge is less likely to be his new area of responsibility. More problematic, he is taking over during the final months of a president's first term. It's not quite a lame-duck period, since the president's re-election is possible, but it still means that getting anything important done before the election is unlikely. 

“There are just many balls in the air right now, and Washington, D.C. is going into autopilot for the next six months,” Lewis said.

Another issue Daniel will have to grapple with is how to safeguard citizens and their privacy as well as protect commercial and national assets while at the same time be sensitive to the financial and personal costs of those protective measures, said Kevin Corbett, director of federal and Mid-Atlantic sales at Cyber-Ark Software, Inc.

“While the cyber threat landscape is constantly changing and evolving, Michael Daniel’s main challenge is a classic one: how to strike the right balance between personal liberty and mandated policy and protections,” Corbett said.

Although some have said the cybersecurity coordinator role lacks authority to really shape the administration’s cybersecurity agenda, Schmidt’s paving the way as the nation’s first “cyber czar” has put his successor “in a strong position to continue making progress when he takes over,” Robert Holleyman, president and CEO at the Business Software Alliance, said in a statement.

“Daniel is a great choice for the job, because he brings deep experience from the years he has spent working on security issues at OMB,” he added.

Daniel’s management and budget background will also likely work to his advantage as the approaching year is expected to see additional squeezing in the form of sequestration. Although some Republican lawmakers and government officials have urged Congress to consider alternatives to the sweeping cuts set to kick in fiscal year 2013, the threat of the sequestration remains looming. President Barack Obama has also vowed to veto any efforts to rescind the automatic across-the-board cuts.

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