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Cyber chief to name admired Senate staffer to deputy post, sources say

White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt is expected soon to name a professional staffer for the Senate's Select Intelligence Committee as his deputy cybersecurity coordinator.

Sameer Bhalotra sent out notes Wednesday night informing people of his move to the White House, according to sources.

He has gained deep respect within the ranks of cybersecurity circles as a strong cyber adviser. "It's a shame to see Sameer leave the Hill and SSCI, but this is a real coup for Howard Schmidt," said James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert and senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Bhalotra has been involved in classified work and has extensive knowledge of the cybersecurity budget. As the key staffer on the Select Intelligence Committee since 2007, he was responsible for the entire cybersecurity budget. He also was a member of the Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency, an advisory group that submitted policy recommendations to the Obama administration.

More important, Bhalotra is well-trusted in Congress, and sources say Republicans and Democrats are big fans. Adding him to Schmidt's team is enough reason for Congress to make the White House Network Operations Center a permanent federal office, according to Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, security training organization.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., and introduced in March, would do just that, and other legislative attempts to update the 2002 Federal Information Security Management Act also are expected to propose a similar measure.

"He is probably the most technically tuned-in staff member on the Hill," Paller said. "He's an innovator and a team builder and a mentor to many others on the Hill, where he headed the Senate's cyber staff caucus."

It was rumored in December 2009 that Bhalotra would be making the move to the White House, but a decision hadn't been made at the time.

"This is a great move for the administration," said Karen Evans, former administrator for e-government and information technology at the Office of Management and Budget. "Sameer brings an in-depth understanding of the issues facing the nation, complemented with his Hill experience."

According to his bio, Bhalotra received an undergraduate degree in physics and chemistry from Harvard University and a doctorate in applied physics from Stanford University.

Adam Ross is managing editor at the SANS Institute and writes the Cybersecurity Report Blog for Nextgov. You can reach him at aross@nextgov.com.

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