Cyber adviser leaving government

National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace

Top White House cybersecurity adviser Howard Schmidt has announced that he is leaving the Bush administration for the private sector as of May 1.

Schmidt served as the vice chairman of the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) Board until the administration dissolved it in March. In an e-mail message this week, he announced that although many of the board's responsibilities are being transferred to the Homeland Security Department (DHS), he is retiring from public service.

"This has been no more than a two- or three-year assignment for me at most," Schmidt said in an interview with Federal Computer Week. "It's been a great opportunity to champion this topic that some of us have been working on for years."

Schmidt said he already is meeting with Robert Liscouski, assistant secretary of infrastructure protection at DHS and a longtime colleague, to work on a smooth transfer of all the work the board has been doing.

"Bob has been working literally overtime doing meetings" to ensure that the relationships created by the board in government and with the private sector continue with the transition, he said.

Concern has been expressed over the number of cybersecurity leaders leaving government and the lack of a single official in charge of security at the highest levels.

"We are concerned...that the cybersecurity issue is losing visibility inside the White House," said Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, in a statement. "In this case, the 'bully pulpit' opportunity to influence the development of a truly secure cyber infrastructure and associated best practices will be lost."

However, Schmidt said the loud central voice that the board provided to bring attention to the cybersecurity issue is no longer necessary.

"A lot of the big work is already done from the government side, and a lot of the work that is left is in the hands of the private sector," he said. "[The private sector] will continue to have an advocate in the government through [Liscouski], through NIST...there will still be attention and focus."

Although he plans to return to private-sector work — most likely as a chief security officer for a company whose "entire brand is about trust" — Schmidt said he will continue to work to implement the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, which he helped craft and which the administration released in February. He particularly would like to raise awareness within the private sector about industry's responsibility to secure the infrastructure it oversees.

"I will still continue to work this issue on a national and even international level," Schmidt said.

Several other top cybersecurity officials have left government this year, most notably Richard Clarke, the chairman of the CIP Board, and John Tritak, director of the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office (CIAO). Both announced their departures in January before the critical infrastructure work officially transferred to DHS.

The CIAO is now part of the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate at DHS, and is being integrated into a single organization also made up of the National Infrastructure Protection Center, the Federal Computer Incident Response Center and others.

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