O'Keeffe ends CISO Exchange

Steve O'Keeffe is halting his efforts to promote a for-profit forum for government and private-sector chief information security officers.

Steve O'Keeffe is halting his efforts to promote a for-profit forum for government and private-sector chief information security officers (CISOs).

O'Keeffe, the principal of public relations firm O’Keeffe and Co., spearheaded the CISO Exchange. The effort has come under fire by government and industry officials for appearing to sell influence over government policy formulation.

O'Keeffe’s statement comes hours after CIO Council officials announced they would end any relations with the Exchange and establish a new, open and accessible forum for the public and private sectors. Whether the company will have any involvement in that new forum "is at the discretion of the CIO Council," O'Keeffe said.

"Any organizations that have made commitments to the CISO Exchange, whether contractual or financial, will be immediately released from those commitments and any monies received will be returned to the organizations," he said.

O’Keeffe officials planned to charge $75,000 to companies for full participation in the Exchange, which would be limited to six system integrator representatives. Other industry officials could have joined for $25,000 or $5,000, with varying levels of access and authority over exchange efforts.

Two companies, Computer Sciences Corp. and NetSec, committed to the Exchange at the $75,000 level, O'Keeffe said last week.

CSC has since withdrawn from the initiative. "Any time there is a question or a perception of buying client access, we're not going to be involved," said Austin Yerks, CSC's president of federal sector business development, in a statement.

The other company, NetSec, let the project's abrupt end speak for itself. "It's our understanding that it has dissolved, so there's nothing to withdraw from," a NetSec spokesman said, adding that the company is disappointed that the CISO Exchange did not come to fruition.

Controversy about federal official participation in for-profit efforts may cause some chief information officers to re-evaluate what private-sector initiatives they are involved in, O'Keeffe said.

"There needs to be a bright line in terms of what is appropriate and what is not appropriate in private-sector funding for activities in which public officials are involved," O'Keeffe said.

That line is currently blurry, O'Keeffe said. "Somebody needs to clarify," he said. "As long as there’s ambiguity or room for interpretation, then there's scope for confusion. Clearly, public/private partnership and interaction is critical to moving the ball forward on some of the most pressing issues."

The CISO Exchange was not an O'Keeffe and Co. effort, O'Keeffe said. Money collected for the Exchange would have gone to O'Keeffe’s holding company, Bonaparte Holdings, "which is used to maintain a distinct identity to ensure there is no potential for mixing the funds," he said.

"From an integrity standpoint, it's very important to maintain separate bank accounts for the organization to handle the expenses and make sure there’s absolute transparency on a matter where you have a public/private partnership," he said.

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