Congress

Proposed new HHS CISO role prioritizes security

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A proposed bill to establish the chief information security officer as an organizational peer to the CIO at the Department of Health and Human Services will help HHS prioritize cybersecurity and avoid conflicts of interest, according to witnesses who testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Health Subcommittee.

Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Billy Long (R-Mo.) introduced a bill in April to establish a separate office for the HHS CISO, in response to an investigation of the 2013 breach of the Food and Drug Administration's information systems. The investigation revealed security weaknesses and recommended separating the agency's CISO from its CIO.

"It seems a major part of the problem is the organizational structure in place at HHS that puts information security second to information operations," Subcommittee Chairman Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.) said. "The official in charge of building complex information technology systems is also the official in charge of ultimately declaring those systems secure. This is an obvious conflict of interest."

Pitts added that separating the two offices is "not novel or untested" in government or the private sector, and it would "better allow for internal checks and balances."

The panel testified that an organization's structure reflects its priorities, and the proposed realignment would signify more of a cooperative, team structure than the existing hierarchy.

"The trend toward elevating the CISO to be a peer of the CIO reflects the recognition that information security has evolved into risk management activity," said Samantha Burch, senior director of congressional affairs at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. "This recognition requires a reporting structure that creates a direct channel to the CEO, CFO, general counsel and board of directors to facilitate management of security risk in the context of business risk."

Joshua Corman, director of the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative, rejected the notion that separating the two offices would create an unnecessarily disjointed environment.

"It's not about eliminating communication or siloing information," he said. "A CISO cannot succeed without successfully working with its executive stakeholders, the CIO being a key one.... I don't think this should be looked at as a siloing effort, more of a balancing."

If passed, the bill would require the new CISO office to be established by Oct. 1.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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