New bill looks to tighten cybersecurity waivers for civilian agencies

data breach (LeoWolfert/ 

A pair of democratic lawmakers today introduced legislation to tighten cybersecurity rules for federal civilian agencies established in a 2015 law.

Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) are sponsoring legislation to amend the 2015 law as the Federal Cybersecurity Oversight Act of 2020. The 2015 bill established a variety of requirements for measures such as data encryption and two-factor authentication.

"This [new] bill shifts from indefinite waivers to waivers that last one year," according to a summary of the legislation.

By "waivers," the statement is referring to exemptions federal agencies can claim to avoid implementing certain cybersecurity measures.

However, the current law allows agencies to "issue themselves blanket, indefinite" waivers, according to the lawmakers. Wyden and Underwood's amended legislation would place authority to grant waivers with the Office of Management and Budget.

"The Federal Cybersecurity Oversight Act will strengthen federal cybersecurity standards and facilitate congressional oversight to protect federal websites, confidential data, and other critical systems from attacks," said Rep Underwood, who chairs the cybersecurity, infrastructure protection, and innovation subcommittee.

Wyden added the bill "would prevent civilian agencies from punting cybersecurity down the road indefinitely."

To receive a waiver, the agency's chief would have to certify the requirement is "excessively burdensome" to implement, it is not necessary to secure the agency's system and data and that the agency "has taken all necessary steps" to secure itself.

"This bill also requires that existing annual cybersecurity reports to Congress include a list of the specific cybersecurity waivers that the agency has received, along with an estimate for when the agency expects to be able to meet the cybersecurity requirements," according to the summary.

About the Author

Justin Katz covers cybersecurity for FCW. Previously he covered the Navy and Marine Corps for Inside Defense, focusing on weapons, vehicle acquisition and congressional oversight of the Pentagon. Prior to reporting for Inside Defense, Katz covered community news in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. areas. Connect with him on Twitter at @JustinSKatz.


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