What cyber czar's departure means for White House cyber priorities

The exit of Howard Schmidt, the White House’s first cyber czar, will likely have no major impact on the administration’s current cybersecurity priorities, according to experts. That's no reflection on Schmidt, though. It's because the position of White House cybersecurity coordinator lacks the power to do much more than make recommendations

Schmidt announced his retirement plans May 17, saying he was stepping down to spend more time with his family and to pursue teaching opportunities, the Washington Post reported.

In reacting to the news, Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), co-founder of the bipartisan Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, praised Schmidt’s work in securing federal systems and information and raising awareness of cyber threats.

“Howard Schmidt has played a vital role in shaping our country's approach to cybersecurity at a critical time, not only in the public proposals he has helped to craft, but also in his tireless work behind the scenes to ensure that our leaders better understand the threats we face and to implement vast improvements to the security of our government networks,” Langevin said in a statement.

On the surface, Schmidt's role has been prominent. As Obama’s top cybersecurity adviser, he was a key player in creating the first cybersecurity policy proposal – the International Strategy for Cyberspace – which calls for global cooperation in fighting web threats and details how the U.S. will respond to hostile acts in cyberspace. He was also instrumental in crafting the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, a blueprint to enhance online privacy protections through the use of trusted digital identities or a so-called identity ecosystem.

Despite those high-profile accomplishments, though, the position of cybersecurity coordinator lacks the authority to enforce any policy, said Jeffrey Carr, cyber intelligence expert and founder and CEO of Taia Global.

The person in that position can make recommendations to help boost cybersecurity practices and procedures, but that's all. There is no power to order an agency to follow through on those recommendations, Carr said.

“Bottom line, it's a frustrating, thankless job and it's a testament to Howard Schmidt's professionalism that he lasted this long,” he said.

Schmidt’s exit won’t likely have an effect on any of the White House cybersecurity priorities because ”there is still continuity,” said Shari Lawrence Pfleeger, director of research for the Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection at Dartmouth College

‘For instance, Andy Ozment will be returning to his previous position as deputy to the cybersecurity coordinator,” she said. “And things are moving forward: NIST has requested proposals for projects to test implementations of the National Strategic for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace.”

Michael Daniel, director of the Office of Management and Budget's Intelligence Branch in the National Security Division, will step in as Schmidt leaves in the end of May.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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