Pressure builds on Obama to appoint cybersecurity coordinator

The co-chairmen of the House Cybersecurity Caucus say the continued absence of a White House cybersecurity coordinator impedes agencies' abilities to update their cyber policies.

The co-chairmen of the House Cybersecurity Caucus are urging President Barack Obama to quickly make good on his pledge to appoint a cybersecurity coordinator.

Reps. James Langevin (D-R.I.) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said in a recent letter to the president that they were pleased to see progress on creating a comprehensive national security strategy for cyberspace. However, they said they were “deeply concerned by the delay” in coordinating the strategy from the White House.

On May 29, Obama said he would set up a new White House cybersecurity office to be led by a coordinator whom he will select and depend on for all matters relating to cybersecurity. In December, the influential Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Cybersecurity Commission, of which Langevin and McCaul also serve as co-chairmen, recommended creating a White House cybersecurity office.

The congressman said in their letter that it's time to establish the office "with the proper authorities to manage the complex and critical mission of securing our nation's networks."

“We strongly believe that the continued absence of a permanent cybersecurity coordinator impedes the ability of federal agencies to move forward in updating and strengthening their aging cyber policies, while also complicating our efforts to collaborate with private institutions that play such a critical role in keeping our nation safe,” stated the letter, dated Sept. 10.

“Your administration has demonstrated a commitment to a strong cybersecurity policy, and we greatly appreciate your early attention to this issue,” the congressmen wrote. “We now respectfully urge you to solidify these efforts by swiftly appointing a cybersecurity coordinator.”

Since Obama’s speech in May, in which he pledged to appoint the adviser and released the results of his administration’s 60-day review of cybersecurity policy, speculation has been rampant over whom Obama would pick for the role. Melissa Hathaway, who led that review and had been the Obama administration’s acting senior director for cyberspace, stepped down in August and isn’t seeking the permanent White House cyber coordinator position, for which she had been considered a candidate.

Meanwhile, in addition to speculation over whom Obama will pick, observers have also questioned whether the official will have enough power. James Lewis, who directs the CSIS Commission, said the new adviser will be taking a job “three months late, three layers down and after the ship has been shot full of holes.” Lewis made the comments today during a panel discussion at the ArcSight Protect ’09 conference near Washington.

“It’s easier to herd cats on day one than it is to herd them on day 112,” said Lewis, who directs CSIS’ technology and public policy program.

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