Commerce tapped to lead effort to protect national private infrastructure

A new national program would tap the Commerce Department as the lead agency in a massive interagency effort to take inventory of the federal government's critical assets and to coordinate with industry in efforts to protect of the nation's private infrastructures.

President Bill Clinton is expected to announce Friday a new Presidential Decision Directive with a specific set of instructions to government agencies on how to deal with cyber and physical infrastructure vulnerabilities. Irwin Pikus, a commissioner with the President's Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection, said the National Security Council (NSC) will coordinate the governmentwide effort.

Pikus said Wednesday that the plan most likely will call for Commerce to provide a coordination support role to the NSC. The departments of Energy, Treasury and Transportation also will be tapped as lead functional agencies in the effort to craft a national plan for infrastructure protection.

Each department will be required to develop within 180 days a national infrastructure assurance plan for the private sectors they represent. For example, Treasury officials will develop a plan for the financial services sector, including banks and investment securities firms, Pikus said. Commerce will develop a plan for the communications and information sector.

To develop the plans, the lead agencies will have to work closely with private-sector owners and operators of telecommunications, electric power, water utility and other critical infrastructures, he said. Each lead agency will appoint a sector coordinator—- most likely at the assistant secretary level or higher—- to work with industry representatives. One private-sector representative also will most likely act as a liaison between industry and each lead agency, Pikus said.

Pikus said the administration hopes to maximize the use of existing infrastructures and capabilities and "minimize the regulation and other mandates on the private sector."

The administration will require all federal agencies to produce within 120 days a plan for protecting its own critical infrastructure, Pikus said. The directive is expected to call for initial operational capability of the governmentwide infrastructure protection plan by the Year 2000, he said.

The directive is also expected to include federal funding for research and development and outline plans to establish public education programs. It builds on an October 1997 report from the commission that identified the nation's vulnerabilities and outlined recommendations to the president.

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