The assistant secretary will be responsible for identifying and assessing the vulnerability of critical telecommunications infrastructure and assets. That person also will be called upon to gather critical-infrastructure threat information and lead the national response to cyber and telecommunications attacks, according to information available on Homeland Security's Web site.
Homeland Security's planned reorganization follows Chertoff's multistep review of the department's programs, policies, operations, and structure. Speaking Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C., Chertoff pointed to IT management as one of his department's six imperatives. Chertoff took over the top position at Homeland Security on Feb. 15.
Homeland Security's decision to create an assistant secretary for cybersecurity and telecommunications is expected to be well received by Congress and IT advocates calling for better use of technology in securing the country's physical and virtual borders. In May, the House of Representatives passed a $34 billion budget for Homeland Security that called for elevating the nation's head cybersecurity official to assistant secretary status.
IT industry representatives were pleased with Wednesday's news. "The plan unveiled by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security serves as a profound step in the right direction, specifically through the establishment of new senior positions with responsibility over cybersecurity and critical infrastructure protection," Robert Holleyman, president and CEO of the Business Software Alliance, said in a statement. BSA is a trade group consisting of hardware and software vendors who seek to influence government policy on a number of technology issues.
The Cyber Security Industry Alliance sees the new position as an important step toward securing the country's critical-information infrastructure. "By adding a position that holds both the resources and authority to effectively lead public-private efforts to harden our nation's IT and communications infrastructure against cyberattacks, DHS has created the foundation needed to move forward with the execution of a comprehensive approach to cybersecurity that will successfully build on public- and private-sector efforts to date," executive director Paul Kurtz said in a statement. Launched in February 2004 by a group of technology providers including Computer Associates, Network Associates, and Symantec, the alliance's mission is to improve cybersecurity through public policy, education, and technology-focused initiatives.