DHS would be cyber power center under Lieberman/Collins proposal

Senior senators on the Homeland Security Committee introduce comprehensive cybersecurity bill

Three senior senators on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today introduced comprehensive cybersecurity legislation that would establish a center in the Homeland Security Department to protect the country’s computer networks, power grid and critical infrastructure from cyberattacks.

Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Thomas Carper (D-Del.) proposed the creation of a new center National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications (NCCC) at DHS to lead the federal effort to protect civilian government and private-sector computer networks. The head of the NCCC would be confirmed by the Senate.

Lieberman and Collins are the chairman and the ranking Republican, respectively, on the full committee; Carper chairs that panel’s Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security Subcommittee.

The NCCC would be responsible for developing, overseeing and enforcing information security throughout the federal government. That responsibility had previously been handled by the Office of Management and Budget’s Electronic Government and Information Technology Office.

The measure would also require a cyber policy office in the Executive Office of the President, also with a Senate-confirmed director. The bill would also reform the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) and require real-time monitoring of threats against government networks. The House recently approved similar reforms to FISMA and for the White House cybersecurity office.

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The senators also want to give the president limited authority to take emergency actions to protect critical infrastructure from cyber threats and provide liability protections to companies that comply with related requirements. In addition, the bill would require developing a strategy to deal with security risks to the supply chain of information technology products. The measure would also reform the way the government recruits, hires and trains cybersecurity personnel.

Under the measure, the cybersecurity center would:

  • Collaborate with industry to establish risk-based security requirements for critical infrastructure and best practices for cybersecurity
  • Receive reports from owners and operators of critical infrastructure on any significant breaches
  • Produce and share warning, analysis and threat information with the private sector and
  • Incorporate DHS’ existing United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team.

The proposal joins an already crowded legislative docket of cybersecurity-related bills. For example, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a different comprehensive cybersecurity bill proposed by Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) earlier this year. The Commerce Committee’s measure doesn’t focus on the Homeland Security Department as does the Lieberman, Collins, and Carper measure.

At a press conference today, Lieberman said although there are differences between his approach and that of the Commerce Committee, the differences aren’t irreconcilable. Lieberman said his staff members and those of Collins and Carper had been working with the staff members of the Commerce Committee, and the staffs had made progress in minimizing conflicts between the different approaches.

However, Lieberman also said DHS is the only logical place for coordinating cyber defense efforts that involve securing non-defense, civilian government networks and private networks.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is very committed to doing something during this congressional session to protect the country’s computer networks, Lieberman said. Lieberman added that he plans to hold a committee hearing on the bill next week, and he hopes to have a mark up session for the measure the week after that, with the goal of having the bill clear his committee before the July 4 recess.

“Now that we’re introducing this today, we’re putting our foot on the gas pedal,” Lieberman said.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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