DHS budget boosts cybersecurity

House approves funds for new security chief, data sharing and technology

Information security could get greater focus now that the House budget bill calls for creating a high-level cybersecurity position at the Homeland Security Department.

DHS would get $34.2 billion in fiscal 2006 as the result of a bill that received almost unanimous approval in the House last week. It is the department's first complete reauthorization since the Homeland Security Act creating DHS was passed in 2002.

By a vote of 424-4, House members approved a bill that, among other things, provides support for information sharing within DHS and with other federal, state and local agencies. It would accelerate the development of new technologies and aggressively recruit new talent.

A groundbreaking element in the bill makes cybersecurity a greater priority for the government. It would create an assistant secretary for cybersecurity in the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate. The person in that position would replace the current director of the National Cybersecurity Division and would oversee that division and the National Communications System.

The promotion of the cybersecurity chief is a "significant step forward to properly address the cybersecurity challenges of the nation," said Amit Yoran, former director of DHS' National Cybersecurity Division and founder of Yoran Associates, a consulting group.

"The new cybersecurity chief's greatest impact can be to better integrate cyber programs and thinking about cybersecurity across the department's initiatives," he said.

The next critical step for the new assistant secretary and the department is refining DHS' cybersecurity mission, Yoran said. They must target specific programs to reach those objectives and make sure those actions are accomplished, Yoran added.

Establishing better communication within the government and with and among the private sector, which owns nearly 90 percent of the nation's critical infrastructure, will be crucial for success, Yoran said.

Promoting the national cybersecurity director was inspired in part by the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2005, which the House Homeland Security Committee's Economic Security, Infrastructure Protection and Cybersecurity Subcommittee unanimously approved in April. Many information security experts backed that bill, saying DHS' cybersecurity chief lacked sufficient power and budget authority to carry out the department's mission.

The bill also includes an amendment to the Buy American Act from Rep. Donald Manzullo (R-Ill.). The amendment would require that at least 50 percent of the components of everything DHS buys must come from American producers.

Some industry observers are concerned about the provision. "It's a lose-lose proposition for protecting our nation's homeland as well as trying to bring the best technologies to bear, from wherever they may come," said Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America.

How homeland security money will be spent

The Homeland Security Department's budget for fiscal 2006, as approved by the House, includes spending on many new programs.

Funding for those programs includes:

  • $826.9 million to create a Screening Coordination and Operations Office.
  • $133.8 million for the Container Security Initiative, part of which will go to evaluate foreign ports that seek to implement the initiative.
  • $40.5 million to the Office for Interoperability and Compatibility to help it establish a national strategy.
  • $10.6 million to develop new anti-terrorism technologies to use with the Support Anti-terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act of 2002, which protects inventors from being sued if their technology works properly but accidentally injures or kills someone.

The bill also seeks to create a single system to perform background checks for people involved in multiple screening programs, such as Free and Secure Trade, Registered Traveler and the Transportation Worker Identification Credential. A single system would save applicants time, money and effort and reduce the collection of redundant information, according to the bill.

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