Bill would magnify cybersecurity in DHS

House lawmakers introduced two homeland security bills, one that would create an assistant secretary position within the Homeland Security Department to oversee cybersecurity and another that would enhance science and technology.

Reps. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the Homeland Security Select Committee's Cybersecurity, Science and Research and Development Subcommittee, and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the subcommittee's ranking member, are prime sponsors of both bills, which were introduced Sept. 13.

The Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2004 would elevate the position of cybersecurity director to assistant secretary within the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection directorate. DHS has a cybersecurity division led by director Amit Yoran.

In effect, the bill would give cybersecurity a bigger spotlight within the department. The assistant secretary would be in a better position to coordinate and influence cybersecurity across different agencies and functions.

Under the bill, the assistant secretary's responsibilities would essentially remain the same except for the addition of primary authority of the National Communications System. The move is designed to treat the missions and operations of telecommunications and information technology as one comprehensive mission.

The NCS, which was transferred from the Defense Department to the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection directorate last year, is an interagency group with representatives from 23 federal departments and agencies. The group coordinates and plans for national security and emergency communications for the federal government during crises.

The third component of the bill would be to define cybersecurity to reflect the convergence of emerging technologies, particularly with IT and telecommunications.

The lawmakers' second bill, the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Enhancement Act, would outline a number of proposals, such as directing the secretary to assess development of science and technology capabilities to address basic scientific research needs; authorizing the secretary to partner with foreign governments, such as Israel and the United Kingdom; identifying geospatial needs; and commercializing technologies.

The bill also proposes to expand an existing National Science Foundation program to encourage higher education institutions, including community colleges, to develop cybersecurity professional development programs and expand or establish associate program degrees. The program would include money for equipment, such as creating hands-on virtual laboratories for cybersecurity specialists. The bill proposes $3.7 million for the program next year.

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