Homeland Security Keeping Central Cybersecurity Role

The department's operational responsibility won't be undercut by the cybersecurity coordinator, a DHS undersecretary nominee says.
The White House has made it clear that the Department of Homeland Security will continue to have a central operational role in federal cybersecurity despite the looming appointment of a cybersecurity coordinator, a nominee for a top post at the department told Congress Tuesday.

Rand Beers, nominee for undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security for the National Protection and Programs Directorate, which among its roles plays a hand in federal cybersecurity, said that deputy national security adviser John Brennan told him as recently as Tuesday morning -- as others had before that -- that Homeland Security's operational responsibility will not be undercut by the cybersecurity coordinator.

"There was no realignment of roles and missions in the department, and it is the view in the White House that the Department of Homeland Security will continue to play a central role in the protection of America's cyber infrastructure," Beers said.

According to Beers, the White House will play a bit of the peacemaker role. "I'm sorry to say we need help from the White House for people to play in the same sandbox," he said.

While it's clear that the Department of Homeland Security believes it will retain its responsibility for cybersecurity, what's less certain is whether the White House will shift any of that responsibility, or exactly how the White House will step in to broker peace in turf wars like the one between DHS and the National Security Agency earlier this year that sent then-director of the National Cyber Security Center at DHS packing, resignation letter in hand.

"DHS has a major role both in the civilian side of the U.S. government and in the private sector for drawing together the best defensive measures and the best partnership for making this nation's cyber infrastructure secure," Beers said in his testimony. "I believe DHS is the logical place for that responsibility to reside."

While Beers would focus much of his attention on cybersecurity in his new role, he would also be responsible for other technology-related programs like the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-Visit) program, which will eventually scan foreign visitors' biometrics when they enter the country, as well as DHS's risk management and analysis office.

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