An authorization bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that would codify many of DHS’s cybersecurity efforts and create a Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within the department today cleared the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee by a voice vote. The Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act (HR 2825) is the department’s first authorization bill since its creation in 2002. The push to authorize the department’s activities originated in the House Homeland Security Committee after Chairman Michael McCaul (R., Texas) gained permission from other committees with jurisdiction over DHS to proceed. The House approved its version of HR 2825 last summer (TR Daily, July 20, 2017).
To ensure adoption of the bill in committee and later on the Senate floor, leaders of the Senate committee encouraged members to withdraw any proposed amendments that addressed divisive issues. The bill is “not completely, but largely, non-controversial,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (R., Mo.), the committee’s ranking member.
The withdrawn amendments included a bipartisan proposal championed by Sens. James Lankford (R., Okla.) and Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) that would have directed DHS to take steps to protect U.S. elections from hackers and foreign influence.
Sen. Lankford expressed frustration that the amendment was derailed by jurisdictional challenges from other Senate committees and opposition by some state election officials. “By no means do we want to federalize elections,” Sen. Lankford said. “Elections are a state responsibility. But when an international actor is hacking into one state it does affect a national election.” He expressed hope that his amendment could clear the Senate as a stand-alone bill. He and Sen. Harris have introduced legislation, the Secure Elections Act (S 2261), that would aim to improve cyber threat information sharing between DHS and state election officials, establish voluntary cybersecurity best practices for elections, and provide grant money for election security.
Sen. McCaskill noted the incongruity of state officials accusing Sen. Lankford, a supporter of federal government restraint, of attempting a federal takeover of state-run elections and said she was disappointed at the opposition to election security legislation. “This is about making sure people have information [and] making sure people have the expertise and the ability to fight these attacks,” she said.
Overall, however, members of the Senate committee said they were pleased to be able to advance the DHS authorization bill, which would, among other things, transform the department’s National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) into an “operational” unit focused on protecting cyberspace and critical infrastructure.
NPPD would be renamed the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and would be headed by a director who would report to the DHS secretary. The House has already adopted a bill, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Act (HR 3359), that would accomplish the same thing (TR Daily, Dec. 11, 2017).
“Establishing an agency within DHS to focus on cyber and infrastructure security will help DHS achieve its missions,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), the committee’s chairman. “Passing the Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act is an important step to strengthen DHS and to establish a process for regular authorizations so that Congress clearly defines the department’s responsibilities and authorities over time to evolve and address emerging threats.” —Tom Leithauser, firstname.lastname@example.org