Cyber executive order nearing completion


The almost-executed, then retracted and repeatedly revised cyber executive order from the Trump administration appears to be nearing completion.

Speaking on a panel at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, former IBM CEO Samuel Palmisano said he would soon attend a meeting with Trump officials to discuss and provide feedback on the executive order.

“So that means it's pretty far along if they're looking for some kind of feedback,” said Palmisano, who added that he thought the order could be finalized “maybe within a week or so.”

The order is expected to draw heavily from the recommendations of the Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity, on which Palmisano served along with co-panelists Steven Chabinsky and Thomas Donilon and panel moderator Kiersten Todt.

Karen Evans, who served on the CSIS task force that provided cyber recommendations to the Trump administration in January, also participated in the discussion, and said the new administration should not be bound by history when it comes to cyber positions in the government.

“We are looking at this administration through the lens of what has been in the past,” said Evans, who also served on the Office of Management and Budget landing team for the Trump transition.

She said that during the CSIS task force process, participants looked at all the “chief” positions in government – information officer, innovation officer, information security officer, etc. – and determined that not all of them are necessary.

“It's an opportunity [for the Trump administration] to be able to say, ‘what do you really want these roles to do and what do you really want these jobs to accomplish?’” she said.

“Just because certain positions aren't filled doesn't mean that they aren't working on the issues and that the policies aren't being discussed,” said Evans.

One of the recommendations common to the national commission and the CSIS task force, and that was included in a leaked draft of the executive order, is to empower and task cabinet secretaries with responsibility for cybersecurity in their agencies – just as a CEO would be responsible in a private company.

“There's no doubt that the heads of agencies need to have responsibilities," Chabinsky said, "but I can't help but caution that they may be being set up to fail.” He warned that agency heads will never have all the money and manpower truly needed to secure their systems.

“So what I would suspect is at the end of the day, what we really mean by saying that the leader is responsible is they're responsible for assessing the situation, taking this seriously and bringing to the forefront whatever those issues are,” he added.

“The proposition that every department, agency in the US government can provide 21st century state of the art cybersecurity, that's not going to happen,” said Donilon.

He said agencies will need to use shared services and rely on expertise, personnel and state-of-the-art capabilities from the “central part of the government.”

Evans said it’s not realistic to expect that the government is going to be able to spend the money needed to replace $80 billion in legacy systems, and so agency staffs need to think like corporate staffs that must advise leadership on making investments based on risk assessments and organizational priorities.

“You have to be able to articulate this in a way that it has parameters around it that reflects reality,” she said.

About the Author

Sean Carberry is a former FCW staff writer who focused on defense, cybersecurity and intelligence.


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