Lawmakers, Officials Applaud Cyber Appointment

Members of Congress reacted with quick praise to the selection of a White House cybersecurity coordinator Tuesday, but some expressed concerns that the cyber czar might lack the influence to truly enact a cybersecurity agenda.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, hailed the appointment of Howard Schmidt as cybersecurity coordinator as a positive development.

"The appointment of Howard Schmidt to be cyber security coordinator is a welcome development in the federal government’s ongoing efforts to improve the security of America’s cyber networks after so many months of delay," Lieberman said in a statement.

"Only the Office of the President has the authority to ensure that all agencies are working from the same playbook.  So, I hope Mr. Schmidt’s appointment leads to a renewed sense of urgency across the government toaddress this challenge. We need to develop without further delay a national strategy for safeguarding critical cyber networks and a comprehensive plan that lays out the responsibilities of each federal agency and the private sector," Lieberman added.

The Connecticut lawmaker said he would introduce cybersecurity legislation in 2010 to require Senate confirmation of the cybersecurity coordinator, partly as a means to make the White House official accountable to Congress.

Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, issued a statement jointly with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) to applaud Schmidt’s placement as the cyber czar.

"We commend President Obama for selecting Howard Schmidt as the cybersecurity coordinator.  He brings the technical expertise and the depth of private sector and governmental experience needed for this important job," Rockefeller and Snowe said. "As cybercriminals steal millions of dollars at a time in sophisticated cyber-heists, Mr. Schmidt’s added experience in law enforcement is all the more important."

But they stressed that Schmidt would require support from President Barack Obama and the federal agencies he must coordinate in order to be effective.

"We urge the President and the National Security Council to ensure that Mr. Schmidt is given the authority within the White House and throughout the Federal government to do what needs to be done to secure our nation’s networks," the senators said. "He must have direct and regular access to the President, and everyone in government and the private sector must know that he is the President’s voice on cybersecurity matters.

"We remain concerned that this cybersecurity coordinator position, even filled by a leader like Schmidt, still does not possess the institutional heft that it needs," they added.

Rockefeller and Snowe introduced the Cybersecurity Act of 2009 (S. 773) on April 1 to create a Cabinet-level national cybersecurity advisor, which would require Senate conformation–much like Lieberman’s proposal. Their bill would further aim to streamline cyber-related government functions and authorities, promote public awareness and protect civil liberties, strengthen the relationship between the federal government and the private sector in cybersecurity, and spur innovation in cybersecurity solutions, the senators said.

Over in the House, lawmakers also lauded the selection of Schmidt to fill the cybersecurity coordinator post.

"I’m pleased that the President has appointed a cybersecurity coordinator, a position that I believe will bring much-needed White House-level attention to an issue of significant national security and economic concern to our nation," Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said in a statement.

"Mr. Schmidt brings an impressive background with him to this job.  I look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead to ensure that public and private sectors are equally engaged in securing our critical information infrastructure from attack," he added.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) underscored Schmidt’s qualifications for the job.

"Securing the nation’s cyber networks against hackers and other threats will be one of America’s greatest 21st century security challenges.  In order to effectively address this issue, we need a leader who will be able to encourage greater coordination between cyber expects in the public and private sectors.  With extensive experience in the private sector, law enforcement, and government, I believe Howard Schmidt is particularly well-suited to this task, and to his new role as national cybersecurity coordinator," Sanchez said in a statement.

Officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also expressed approval of the selection. Phil Reitinger, deputy undersecretary of the National Protection and Programs Directorate, handles quite a few cybersecurity resources that Schmidt would coordinate in his new post.

"I said on more than one occasion that it was important to get the right person, and we at DHS will be honored to work with Howard and under the leadership he will bring to the issue of cybersecurity," Reitinger said Tuesday on the DHS blog. "Howard has been involved in cybersecurity for many years, and I first met him when I was a cyber crime prosecutor with the US Department of Justice and he was a special agent with the Air Force Office ofSpecial Investigations in the 1990s. He built his own computers even then, and I’ll bet he still does."

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