Impatient lawmakers press Biden for cyber director nominee

President Joe Biden has said cybersecurity will be a top priority for his administration, but two senior positions focused on the issue remain either vacant or held by an acting official.

secure network (vs148/Shutterstock.com)
 

Congress established a national cyber director role at the White House in the latest defense policy bill with bipartisan support, but some lawmakers are growing increasingly frustrated that President Joe Biden has not yet nominated someone to fill the position.

"I ask that you prioritize immediate action on the new authority granted by the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act to nominate a national cyber director," Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House committee on oversight and reform, wrote in a March 24 letter to the White House.

"The lack of centralized and coordinated cybersecurity leadership at the White House has had devastating consequences, as recently demonstrated by the SolarWinds breach in which a suspected Russian state actor infiltrated the networks of at least nine federal agencies and over a hundred private-sector companies," the letter continues.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who co-chaired the cybersecurity commission that recommended the new office be created, told reporters March 17 that he was also frustrated by the White House's inaction. He said he understood that it would take time to establish the new position but that there is no reason why the Senate could not consider a nominee in the meantime.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency also continues to work with an acting director, Brandon Wales. Wales has been asked about the role during public events and what negative effects the vacancy may have on the federal government. The acting director has offered his support for the White House position and its purpose, but declined to answer the question directly, instead praising Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security advisor who has taken point for the administration in responding to the recent cybersecurity breaches involving SolarWinds and Microsoft Exchange.

The White House has not yet named a nominee to lead CISA but press reports in February indicated Biden has chosen Washington lawyer and Department of Homeland Security veteran Rob Silvers.

In her letter to the White House, Maloney cites a new Government Accountability Office report focused on cybersecurity. The March 24 report states "the federal government needs to move with greater urgency to improve the nation's cybersecurity as the country faces graves and rapidly evolving threats."

"Once the position is filled, the federal government will be better situated to direct activities to overcome the nation's cyber threats and challenges, and to perform effective oversight," GAO's report says of the national cyber director position.

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