Cyber probes gain traction on the Hill

Cyber is front and center as the 115th Congress completes its first month, with multiple investigations into Russia’s election-related hacking and now a resolution to create a Senate Select Committee on Cybersecurity.

 

Congress has come under fire from industry, government officials and its own members for having piecemeal oversight of cyber. That could change with the introduction of a Senate resolution to create a Select Committee on Cybersecurity.

One week after the Senate Armed Services Committee unveiled a new cybersecurity subcommittee chaired by Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), two senators have introduced legislation to formally establish a select committee.

The resolution by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) tasks the proposed 21-member committee “to oversee and make continuing studies of and recommendations regarding cybersecurity threats to the United States; and which may report by bill or otherwise on matters within its jurisdiction.”

The committee would have four primary areas of jurisdiction:

  • Domestic and foreign cybersecurity risks (including state-sponsored threats) to the United States.
  • The activities of any department or agency relating to preventing, protecting against, or responding to cybersecurity threats to the United States, and relevant incidents or actions.
  • The organization or reorganization of any department or agency to the extent that the organization or reorganization relates to a function or activity involving preventing, protecting against, or responding to cybersecurity threats to the United States, and relevant incidents or actions.
  • Authorizations for appropriations, both direct and indirect, for preventing, protecting against, or responding to cybersecurity threats to the United States, and relevant incidents or actions.

Accordingly, the committee, if formed, would be involved in actions such as the elevation of U.S. Cyber Command to a full combatant command and the restructuring of the Department of Homeland Security’s National Protection and Programs Directorate.

“Cybersecurity policy is one of the most complex and significant challenges facing Congress, yet the Senate’s structure to investigate and address cyber issues is diffuse and inadequate,” said Gardner in a press release.

“The establishment of a Select Committee on Cybersecurity is essential to investigating emerging cyber risks and bolstering our defenses against them through legislative solutions,” he added.

Coons stated that Russia’s election-related hacking, China’s OPM breach and other recent cyberattacks show that gaps exist in U.S. cyber defenses and “that Congress maintains a 20th century framework to respond quickly and effectively to these 21st century challenges.”

The resolution to create the Senate committee comes as more congressional committees announce investigations into Russia’s hacking capabilities and its attempts to influence the 2016 election.

The House and Senate intelligence committees have both launched investigations, and the Senate Armed Services Committee has also announced it plans to examine cyberthreats and how to counter Russia’s cyber capabilities.

Rep Mike McCaul (R-Texas), who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, stated recently on Bloomberg TV that his committee “will certainly be looking at this issue.”

In addition, there is a bill pending in the Senate to create an independent commission to investigate Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 election, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has previously opposed such a measure and instead endorsed the investigations by the existing committees.

McConnell’s office told FCW it had “no updates” on the Gardner/Coons legislation.

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