Critics argue against a White House security lead

Critics raised questions last week about the growing chorus of calls for the White House to play a leading role in coordinating cybersecurity efforts involving the federal government and key private-sector industries.

For instance, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, said at a hearing on cybersecurity strategies that putting the White House in charge would make it harder for Congress to oversee policies and budgets.

The president rightly should be responsible for "declaring [cyber] war," with input from Congress, Collins said. But for overall cybersecurity leadership, she suggested that the government use as a model the National Counterterrorism Center, which was set up in 2004. The NCTC is part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, a setup that allows Congress to play a role, Collins said.

Despite her concerns, a second bill that would give the White House more control over security efforts was introduced in the Senate last week. The measure proposed by Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.) would establish a National Office for Cyberspace whose director would be appointed by and report to the president.

A bill introduced early last month by Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) would similarly create a cybersecurity office in the White House. In addition, Melissa Hathaway, a federal official who led a review of government cybersecurity programs, said two weeks ago at the RSA Conference that the White House should coordinate security efforts on a national basis.

But Stewart Baker, a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, also argued against shifting control to the White House. Baker said the government should strengthen the ability of the DHS to manage cybersecurity by giving it the required resources as well as support from the National Security Agency and the military.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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