Upcoming transition creates uncertainty

The next few months will be a critical time for the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI) as the government transitions to a new administration and new leaders of congressional committees set up shop.

“The danger is that the CNCI could see some pushback from agencies on the mandates for the  [Federal Desktop Core Configuration], [Trusted Internet Connections] and other things at a time when it is at its most vulnerable, which is during the transitions,” said James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The McCain and Obama presidential campaigns have expressed general support for increased cybersecurity measures, with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) going further and listing it as one of his top five priorities for his administration, should he win in November. He’s also proposed the appointment of a federal chief technology officer to coordinate government efforts in information technology.

Meanwhile, efforts are under way in Washington on ways to provide independent recommendations on cybersecurity to the incoming administration, said Amit Yoran, chief executive officer of netWitness Corp. Those efforts include providing thoughts and analysis on the CNCI.

“I’m reasonably optimistic that both of the campaigns have a concern about cybersecurity, so I don’t believe the 44th president will come in and redo the initiative,” he said.

Mark Gerencser, a senior partner at Booz Allen Hamilton, said he sees signs that CNCI is being taken more seriously than previous attempts to boost cybersecurity. Those signs include a re-energized Office of the Director of National Intelligence and a more involved Congress.

However, the key to maintaining the CNCI’s momentum lies with the White House, so a clear and early statement of support for it is essential.

“This needs to be driven by the executive branch,” Gerencser said.

In fact, there are efforts by some organizations to push that issue even further. Lewis, who is also director of the Commission for Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency, said that a key recommendation of the commission’s report, expected to be released in November, will be to move many cybersecurity functions to the White House National Security Council.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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