Senate kills bid to make White House czars accountable

Amendment would have extended congressional oversight over cybersecurity coordinator

A proposed amendment that would have given Congress more oversight over the White House cybersecurity czar and at least 17 other czars appointed by President Obama was shut down in the U.S. Senate today.

The amendment, proposed by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), sought to restrict federal funds for the expenses of White House-appointed czars unless two conditions were met. One of them was to require the president to agree that every czar would respond to "reasonable requests" to testify before Congress on matters related to the office. The other would require the czars to issue a report to Congress twice a year. The proposed amendment was in an Interior Department environmental appropriations bill on the Senate floor.

In a statement, Collins said the amendment was needed to ensure greater transparency and accountability. She had claimed that direct White House appointees were largely insulated from congressional oversight and often duplicated or diluted the statutory authority and responsibilities of cabinet-level appointees who had been vetted by Congress.

However, the amendment was ruled "non-germane" to the pending bill in the Senate this afternoon and will not move forward, a spokesman for Collins said in an e-mail. "The amendment fell," following an objection by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), he said.

Collins, who is the ranking minority member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, had raised similar concerns previously, especially with regard to Obama's plans to appoint a White House cybersecurity czar, or agency coordinator.

At a committee hearing in May on strategies for securing cyberspace, Collins had said that putting the White House in charge would make it harder for Congress to exercise oversight of critical cybersecurity policies and budgets. Collins proposed instead that the government consider adopting the model used in setting up the National Counterterrorism Center. The NCTC, which was established in August 2004 on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, works in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, a setup that allows for greater congressional oversight, she had said.

The developments come amid a delay by the White House in naming a new cybersecurity coordinator. The president announced the position in May and stressed the need for a national strategy for securing U.S. interests in cyberspace.

The delay in making the appointment has fueled speculation about the likely candidates and the nature of the job. Earlier this month, the Reuters news service, quoting an unnamed source with "direct knowledge" of the matter, said the front-runner for the post was Frank Kramer, an assistant defense secretary under President Bill Clinton.

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