Tough road ahead in Senate for bill to create new DHS cyber agency

(DHS photo by Jetta Disco / Flickr)

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Despite passing the House and bipartisan support, the bill to create​ a new ​cybersecurity ​agency inside the Department of Homeland Security ​faces a tough climb in the Senate​, observers and staffers say​.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Act of 2017 passed by voice vote​ ​Monday​ — moving the bill to the upper chamber. In brief floor remarks, Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, called the bill a “compromise” that fellow Texas Republican House Homeland Security Committee​ ​Chairman ​Michael McCaul had worked on with “dogged determination.”

In a statement, newly sworn-in DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen also praised McCaul’s “tireless work” on the proposal. It’s his second attempt — with bipartisan support from Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. — to create an operational cybersecurity agency within DHS. The first bill never made it to the House floor last Congress because of turf fights: Nine other House committees have jurisdiction over some element of DHS.

The latest attempt passed only because the three other committees with authority over cyber issues — Energy and Commerce, Transportation and Infrastructure and Oversight and Government Reform — relinquished their jurisdictional claims and allowed it to proceed.

The other committees did so, said staffers, in part because the bill was carefully written to limit its scope — specifically declaring that it’s not conferring any new authorities on DHS.

Instead, the bill simply renames the department’s National Protection and Programs Directorate, responsible for both the cyber and physical security of the nation’s vital industries. If the bill becomes law, NPPD will become the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and its current undersecretary will become a director.

“The bill [that failed] last year was much more ambitious,” said one Homeland Security committee staffer who asked not to be identified. “This year, to get it across the finish line, we crafted it much more narrowly … In my view, that shows the jurisdictional challenges we face.”

Red more about the bill’s passage and its tough road ahead on CyberScoop. 

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CyberScoop, Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
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