Senate's newest cyber bill on fast track to passage

Friday - 6/11/2010, 6:46am EDT

WFED's Jason Miller

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The latest and most comprehensive bill to change how agencies secure their computer networks is on the fast track.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), one of the principle sponsors of the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010, says the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which he is the chairman of, will hold a hearing June 15 and mark the bill up about a week later, June 23. He wants to report the bill out of committee before the July 4 recess.

"Sen. Harry Reid [the Majority Leader] is very committed to doing something to protect our cyber networks in this session of Congress," Lieberman says during a press conference in the Capitol introducing the bill Thursday. "Our committee has been working on this for some period time. A few months back, Sen. Reid called a bunch of the chairman in in relevant areas because he had just received a briefing on the cyber threat. He was very concerned about it and said this is something he wanted to get done in this session of Congress."

In fact, Lieberman says he just met with Reid Wednesday about the cyber bills. Reid created a process where his staff would coordinate with the relevant committee staffs to get a cyber bill passed this session.

The bill now becomes one of more than 40 introduced during the 111th Congress. Some of the more prominent bills include the Cybersecurity Act of 2010 from Sens. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), the International Cyberspace and Cybersecurity Coordination Act of 2010 from Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2010 from Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) and several amendments to the House version of the Defense Authorization bill from Reps. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), Diane Watson (D-Calif.) and Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.).

Lieberman says he believes because of the widespread and bi-partisan support to improve cybersecurity something will get done.

"We are very open to including those [other bills] in this measure," he says. "I've heard from people in the private sector who have talked to people in both parties, including the leadership and they have been encouraged to believe there really is an opportunity here because of the threat to our national security."

He adds that the committee spent a lot of time writing the bill and meeting with the public and private sector experts to make sure they are starting off in good shape.

A congressional source familiar with the legislation says the Defense Authorization bill is one option to get these changes put into law because the House version already includes several similar provisions.

Joy Fox a spokeswoman for Langevin says the congressman is pleased with several aspects of the bill.

"While he is still examining the details of Sen. Lieberman's bill, he is happy to see that it would give the director of Cyberspace Policy budgetary oversight authorities," Fox says. "This was a fundamental recommendation of the CSIS Commission on Cybersecurity, which he co-chaired, and a key provision in his recently-introduced legislation. After seeing his language included in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act, he is hopeful the Senate will be able to move quickly and cement certain aspects on FISMA reform and the executive authorities for cyberspace in its version of the Defense bill."

Bob Dix, vice president of government affairs and critical infrastructure protection for Juniper Networks and a former staff member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says leadership is needed to ensure some comprehensive cybersecurity legislation makes it into law.

"The leadership must provide leadership to the various members because there is a lot of jurisdiction grabbing going on now," he says. "There are some good and not so good measures in these bills. What is missing now is prioritization of what we need in terms of tools provided legislatively to support mission of making nation more secure."

Reaction to the major changes the bill would make has mostly been positive.

Among the most significant differences the bill is asking for would be to create two new offices to oversee federal cybersecurity at the White House and at the Homeland Security Department.

The White House's Office of Cyberspace Policy would be run by a Senate confirmed director and would oversee budget, policy making and national strategy development.

At DHS, the bill would create the National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications (NCCC), led by a direct, who too would be confirmed by the Senate. The NCCC would wrestle oversight and the majority of the responsibility for the cybersecurity of civilian agency networks from the Office of Management and Budget.