Cybersecurity and partisan politics: Let's not go there

Cybersecurity is too important an issue to become a victim of partisan bickering.

Could someone please rescue cybersecurity from the peril of partisan politics?

The trouble started last month when Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) introduced a bill that would put the Homeland Security Department in charge of protecting civilian government systems and overseeing the security of private systems deemed to be critical infrastructure.

Lieberman said he based his proposal on numerous bills that had been introduced but abandoned in recent years. He claimed his bill was developed in collaboration across party and committee lines, which might have smoothed its passage except for one thing: The bill ended up on the Senate calendar without being considered by any committee with jurisdiction over cybersecurity issues.

Seven Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, are opposing the bill. Besides resenting the way it was handled, the senators are concerned that the bill would give DHS too much regulatory authority over the private sector. McCain, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also said the Defense Department and the National Security Agency, not DHS, should take the lead on cybersecurity.

As this issue of Federal Computer Week was going to press, McCain announced that the group would introduce competing legislation aimed at providing “a common-sense path forward,” as reported by Bill Jackson of FCW’s sister publication Government Computer News.

In any other year, this scenario would not be a cause for concern. Such disputes about process and content are not uncommon, and heated debates are a healthy part of the legislative workday.

But everything is different now. The current environment of hyper-charged partisan politics escalates every debate into a winner-takes-all battle in which the concern over defending party positions tends to outweigh any interest in arriving at workable solutions.

That’s not to say that a vigorous debate is not in order. The stakes are indeed high when it comes to cybersecurity — so high, in fact, that lawmakers cannot afford to let partisan politics undermine their well-intentioned efforts.

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