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State’s New Cyber Office Brings Up Old Congressional Turf Issues

Members of the House Homeland Security Committee are guarding the jurisdiction of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency as one of their own looks to boost the State Department’s approach to the issue.    

“Certainly, the State Department has an important role to play working with our allies to negotiate international cyber norms, though this work should leverage the expertise of CISA and other Federal partners,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who chairs the committee, and Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., who he appointed on Friday to lead Homeland’s subcommittee on cybersecurity, said in a joint statement to Nextgov. “There is no shortage of work that needs to be done – but it is critical that the efforts are coordinated strategically.”

The two were reacting to sentiments from Homeland Committee Ranking Member John Katko, R-N.Y., who cast doubt on the idea of cyber diplomacy as a whole during an appearance at the State of the Net conference Wednesday, and a debate over how work on cybersecurity should be organized at the State Department. 

“The [fifth generation networking] technology is a big issue,” Katko said during the conference, noting the importance of “clarifying federal roles and responsibilities to prevent counterproductive encroachment on CISA’s mission. I just read recently where State is beefing up their whole cybersecurity arm and they have a very different interest.”

Shortly before leaving office, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced his approval of a new bureau that would “reorganize and resource America’s cyberspace and emerging technology security diplomacy.” Days later, congressional members of the bipartisan, public-private Cyberspace Solarium Commission blasted the move, noting its lack of alignment with the Cyber Diplomacy Act of 2019, a bipartisan bill they said would have broken down silos maintained in the State Department’s current plan. Under the bill, State’s cybersecurity efforts would also be led by a Senate confirmed, presidentially appointed head with ambassador status. 

But Katko on Wednesday seemed to question the very idea of cyber diplomacy. “The intersection for them is not keeping the homeland safe, that’s a component of what they consider but diplomacy is also part of it,” he said, adding he’s “not sure cybersecurity and diplomacy are a good mixture. I think when you’re making decisions on cybersecurity, they should be based on cybersecurity.” 

Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, is a member of the Homeland Security Committee but is also ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He sponsored the Cyber Diplomacy Act and plans to reintroduce it this Congress.    

“We are still working with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle and committees of other jurisdictions on this bill,” a spokesperson from McCaul’s office told Nextgov. “Right now it would be inaccurate to say we are for or against any specific ideas that are out there, including suggestions from Rep. Katko.”

A committee spokesperson later moderated Katko’s comments in response to a request for this story.  

“Ranking Member Katko is very supportive of the State Department’s diplomacy efforts in cyberspace,” the spokesperson said. “This was evidenced by State’s successful work over the last few years to push the U.K. to change its position on Huawei. He simply wants to make sure other civilian executive branch agencies aren’t encroaching upon CISA’s .gov network defense mission.” 

The Foreign Affairs Committee is one of several—Finance, Energy and Commerce and Science to name a few—in which jurisdiction over cybersecurity intersects, sometimes causing stalemates, over issues like breach notification requirements, for example. But particularly since the creation of CISA, the Homeland Security Committee has been asserting a more central role for itself.    

Among its many recommendations, the Cyberspace Solarium Commission called for congressional leadership to create House and Senate permanent select committees, similar to those that now handle intelligence matters. Leadership would choose the chair and ranking members, while “the chairs and ranking members of other cyber-relevant committees (as determined by congressional leadership) should also serve as ex-officio members of this committee,” according to the commission’s report.

Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., co-founder of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, has been advocating the special committee for years, before the Solarium Commission ever existed. Langevin also sits on the Homeland Security Committee, is a member of the Solarium Commission and leads the cybersecurity and emerging technology panel of the Armed Services committee, but the idea never gained traction with key members. A Democratic aide told Nextgov Thompson has spoken against the select committee in the past.

On Jan. 25, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a press release praising a memorandum of understanding signed between leaders of committees with oversight jurisdiction for the Department of Homeland Security. The signing committee chairs agreed to consult with each other before considering any authorization regarding Homeland Security components.

“Before we add a new committee into the fold, Ranking Member Katko believes we owe it to ourselves to try to optimize the current jurisdictional arrangements,” the committee spokesperson said, in response to the Solarium Commission recommendation. “The recent MOU is a great first step in that direction and we should find ways to build off of that approach.”

The Foreign Affairs Committee was not among those listed on the memo. 

source: NextGov