Senate committee demands DHS explain alleged lack of support for cybersecurity office

Committee also seeks explanation on how $6 million set aside for NCSC was spent

The Senate Homeland Security Committee's senior-most Republican is asking DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to explain why the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC), set up within the department last year, has seemingly been marginalized by the agency.

In a March 23 letter addressed to Napolitano, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) also demanded a detailed explanation from the DHS on how the $6 million that had been set aside for the NCSC last year had been spent. Collins said the letter was prompted by concern over several assertions made by former director Rod Beckstrom when he quit his job earlier this month.

In his resignation letter, Beckstrom said that the NCSC had not received appropriate support from within the DHS and had received just five weeks' worth of funding last year. He also said that the NCSC had faced various roadblocks that appeared to have been intentionally engineered from within the DHS and the White House Office of Management and Budget. Beckstrom also pointed to what he said were growing attempts by the National Security Agency (NSA) to wrest control of the NCSC as a reason for his resignation.

Pointing to the comments, Sen. Collins said the committee needed to understand more fully "how and why the NCSC was allegedly marginalized," despite the prominent role in cybersecurity that had been envisaged for it when the office was first created. She pointed to a letter written by former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff last June describing the NCSC as the "single location for all-source situation awareness about cybersecurity" across government.

Sen. Collins also noted her and Chairman Joseph Lieberman's efforts to establish the NCSC in statute and to provide it with additional responsibilities to advance its "coordination and consultation" capabilities. The proposals include vesting NCSC with the authority to develop performance measures, to review agency information security budgets and to direct remedial measures where needed.

"I continue to support giving the department, and more specifically the NCSC [such authorities]," Sen. Collins wrote while demanding detailed information from the DHS on more than half-dozen separate items related to the NCSC.

The information sought by Sen. Collins included a detailed breakdown of the NCSC's budget for the next four years and copies of any NCSC contracts, including those that might have been canceled before fulfillment. The letter also asked the DHS to provide copies of any documentation related to the cancellation of computers, network equipment or office space for the NCSC, as well as copies of any documents related to physically locating the NCSC at any NSA-controlled facility.

DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said the agency was in receipt of Collins' letter and would respond "directly via correspondence rather than via the media."

Beckstrom, who was the first director of the NCSC, quit just a year into his job. His resignation has lifted the lid on widespread opposition to the NSA's growing role in domestic cybersecurity affairs and reignited debate on the most appropriate agency for leading the national information-security agenda.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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