Activity around a critical federal cybersecurity program is heating up, with DHS and Congress hoping to see major progress on key goals by summer 2018.
The federal government is making big strides in its effort to get a real-time picture of agency computer network activity. By the end of May or early June, the Department of Homeland Security expects to have all 23 major agencies connected to the federal dashboard housed at the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center.
Currently, 15 of the 23 agencies covered under the Chief Financial Officers Act are connected, according to Kevin Cox, program manager of the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation Program at DHS.
CDM is considered to be a vital program for protecting federal networks from cyber threats. However, a lack of prioritization by agencies and an uncertain funding structure has led to a series of frustrating delays around Phases 1 and 2.
Additionally, the program has received an Authorization to Operate in order to bring many of the non-CFO Act "micro" agencies up to speed on Phases 1 and 2, with a tentative expectation of getting them hooked up to the NCCIC dashboard by the end of June.
"I'm seeing progress. I think there's always the desire to do more and do it faster, and we've been working closely with OMB and folks up on the Hill to see where we can accelerate things," Cox said.
On the funding front, DHS is set to receive $102 million for the program under the 2018 omnibus spending bill, and a bipartisan trio of lawmakers, Reps. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), have requested an additional $237 million for 2019.
Following a May 8 appropriations hearing, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told FCW that the department was eager to move to Phases 3 and 4.
"We want to get to data governance, data protection. So, we're still evolving as we go, but we are still … making sure that all departments are using [CDM] the best that they can," she said.
Cox elaborated on the sidelines of a May 10 event in an interview with FCW.
"As we get into Phase 3, we're starting to move out to the perimeter, out to the cloud, mobile devices. So, what we're doing with all three phases is really lay the groundwork for agencies to have visibility of where they have data and what needs to be protected," Cox said.
"As we move into Phase 4, it's really about a data-centric approach, getting protections around our most critical data, making sure that for all the high-value assets in the federal government, that we have the proper mechanisms in place to ensure that that critical data is properly protected in the appropriate way for the system."
Lawmakers are also looking to use their oversight and funding clout to prod agencies into better compliance. Following a March 22 joint hearing on CDM by the House Homeland Security and Government Oversight committee, Ratcliffe told FCW that if the he did not see significant progress from agencies by the end of the year, the "next major step is legislation."
A congressional aide on one of the committees working on CDM characterized the comments in less transactional terms. Ratcliffe and other members are exploring several different ideas and engaging with industry and public-sector stakeholders to determine what shape potential legislation might take, but the staffer, speaking on background, indicated potential legislation would be more focused on giving DHS and CIOs the tools and authorities needed to bring agencies into compliance.
"We're not looking at it in [a punitive] lens, it's not about punishing agencies that are laggards," said the staffer. "It's more about how do you best empower [Cox and the CDM team] to do their job, and also incentivize federal agencies to be engaging with them."
In the meantime, the staffer described a three-pronged role for Congress to achieve better agency compliance, with the House Oversight committee putting CIOs on the hot seat through "name and shame" hearings that highlight slow adopters, the House Homeland Security committee taking feedback from CIOs on what they need to get the job done, and finally considering possible avenues for legislation and appropriators ensuring that funding decisions for the program are flowing in the right direction.
"We think CDM is a great program, and much like EINSTEIN, it's important to codify programs that are working," said the staffer. "Especially programs like CDM, which is not a tool like EINSTEIN was, it's a vehicle, a structure to do better cybersecurity. That's the kind of thing we want to get into law so folks can say, 'I have to do this, this is the kind of thing Congress is going to be asking about.'"
While he didn't express any preferences, Cox also indicated that DHS could be open to additional legislation.
"Just getting that visibility through legislation, perhaps to help send the signals to the agencies that this is an important effort and that it does need to be a priority, it potentially could help us," he said.
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