Elections

$150M in federal funds for election security is already out the door

voting scrutiny (Bakhtiar Zein/Shutterstock.com) 

The initially turbulent relationship between federal agencies and state and local election officials in the wake of the 2016 election season has cleared to some extent as the groups work together ahead of upcoming elections, federal and state government officials told a Senate panel on election security.

States are using up a pool of federal money to bolster their election systems, and the Department of Homeland Security is honing its threat sharing data to better fit the needs of states, the officials said at a June 20 Senate Rules and Administration Committee hearing on election cybersecurity.

"As of this week, 38 states have requested $250 million" of the $380 million appropriation in the 2018 omnibus spending bill, panel Chairman Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said. He added that $150 million has already been distributed.

State election commissions were initially skeptical of DHS stepping in to help them secure their voting systems. Since then, DHS has built up cyber assessment and evaluation services for states, established an Election Infrastructure Coordinating Council and helped set up an Election Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center to share threat information.

State officials testifying at the senate hearing, for the most part, agreed those organizations and resources are working well.

"Minnesota and other states are in a far better position going into this election than that last one" in understanding the cyber threat, said Steve Simon, Minnesota Secretary of State. "We've benefitted from the critical infrastructure designation from DHS in terms of expertise, value-added. It's a good partnership after a rocky start," he said.

DHS Senior Cybersecurity Advisor, Matt Masterson, said he had heard that too. "We're trying to find a balance of how much information" to provide and in what forms it should be available, he said.

State IT managers, he said, should have more technical detail than other election officials. The process of honing data has been a part of establishing data sharing programs for the other critical infrastructure sectors, he said.

Despite the praise, state officials told the panel that a steady stream of funding, not only a one-time appropriation, would be needed to most effectively protect state and local election infrastructure.

"This is expensive," said Simon said of protecting systems.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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