Bush to define Homeland office

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Federal and industry experts hope an executive order from President Bush outlining the role of cybersecurity in the new Office of Homeland Security will provide much-needed coordination and leadership for protecting the nation's critical infrastructure.

Bush created the office following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and administration officials who were working on a review of federal critical infrastructure protection efforts are bringing the results of that review to an executive order that will define the office, said John Tritak, director of the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office, in testimony before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Oct. 4.

That order will be issued within the next week, according to administration officials.

President Clinton started the federal critical infrastructure protection work in May 1998 with Presidential Decision Directive 63, which requires agencies to protect the information systems that support the nation's infrastructure. However, reports from the General Accounting Office and agency inspectors general show uneven progress in complying with PDD 63, and few agencies are expected to meet the 2003 deadline.

A big reason for this inconsistency has been the lack of coordination between the many officials and organizations created to oversee and lead PDD 63 implementation, according to GAO and many of those involved.

So beyond creating a clear leader—in the form of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who will report directly to the president—the new executive order outlining the Office of Homeland Security may provide a clearer organizational structure for the many groups involved in critical infrastructure protection, experts said.

"No matter who is in charge, the key to success that we have found is the building of coordination," said Ronald Dick, director of the National Infrastructure Protection Center, which coordinates federal, state, local and industry response under PDD 63.

With that coordination, the new office must have a budget and clear authority, said Kenneth Watson, president of the Partnership for Critical Infrastructure Security, a cross-industry group that works with the government organizations.

But it will only be effective if putting the cyberspace protection efforts in the context of the office gives cybersecurity a priority it did not have before, Tritak said.

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