Lawmakers Want to Drain the Swamp of Feds and Beef Up Cybersecurity

Orhan Cam/

As committees reveal their priorities, expect a focus on IT modernization and cybersecurity.

Confirmations clogged up Congress, but lawmakers still had time to introduce a flurry of bills focused on federal employees and unveil to-do lists zeroing in on IT modernization and security.

Speaking of All the President’s Men

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and State’s Rex Tillerson were sworn in. President Donald Trump’s cabinet now has five confirmed, and 11—including embattled Betsy DeVos—waiting for full Senate vote.

Six Democratic senators led by House Intelligence Committee ranking member Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., introduced legislation Thursday codifying membership on the president’s National Security Council and requiring congressional consent for major changes. The bill designates the director of national intelligence and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as statutory members.

It comes amid an uproar over Trump’s decision to keep those positions off his NSC in favor of adviser Stephen Bannon. Warner is ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Bill co-sponsors are Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.

If You Thought ‘Drain the Swamp’ Meant Lobbyists…

Reps. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, and Ted Budd, R-N.C., introduced a bill that would require federal agencies to move their headquarters outside of the D.C. metro area. The Drain the Swamp Act of 2017 would require agency heads to create relocation plans by Sept. 30, 2018, and agencies would need to move by Sept. 30, 2023.

And because federal employees “soak of the lifeblood of the American people,” Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., and seven other co-sponsors introduced the Modern Employment Reform, Improvement and Transformation Act of 2017, or MERIT Act. The act would speed up federal firing. Agency leaders could fire employees after giving them written notice, employees would have seven days to appeal to Merit Systems Protection Board and then the board would have 30 days to make a final decision.

But federal employees shouldn’t feel too unwanted: Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., introduced a pay raise bill—3.2 percent—like he has for the past few sessions.

Try, Try Again on Email Privacy

On Monday, the House may consider legislation under suspension of the rules that would require warrants before law enforcement can access any emails, including old ones. Similar legislation passed the House unanimously last year, but did not reach the Senate floor.

The bill would update 1980s-era legislation that currently allows the Justice Department and other agencies to access emails and other digital communications more than 180 days old with only a subpoena. Under suspension of the rules, the bill would require a two-thirds vote in favor to pass.

It’s a Modernization Situation

The House Veterans Affairs Committee on Tuesday will get an update on the department’s IT situation, and modernization has been popping up almost as much as cybersecurity as committees announce their priorities.

The House oversight committee pledges to review how the government buys and manages information technology, update the role of agency chief information officers and assess the digital security of the government’s new background check agency. The House Science, Space and Technology Committee plans to continue pressing the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation on its cybersecurity issues and the House Judiciary Chair Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., plans to help law enforcement track criminals and terrorists without undermining encrypted communications.

Forget Bolting-On Security

Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Steve Daines, R-Mont., introduced legislation Thursday urging the Homeland Security Department’s science and technology division to focus its cybersecurity research funds on new technology rather than shoring up old systems. The division should focus on research and grants aimed at building more secure information systems, detecting attacks in real time, reviewing computer code for vulnerabilities, cyber forensics and reducing vulnerabilities in industrial control systems, according to a synopsis of the senators’ Rapid Innovation Act. The bill includes no new funding.

Other Cyber Bills to Watch

The House Homeland Security Committee was busy voting on numerous bills with cyber and insider threat implications during a Jan. 31 meeting: DHS Insider Threat and Mitigation Act, (H.R. 666), focuses on departmentwide insider threat strategy; DHS Clearance Management and Administration Act, (H.R. 697), would change security clearance management; the Cyber Preparedness Act, (H.R. 584), would enhance the legislative authorities of DHS’ National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center for information sharing; and the U.S.-Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation Enhancement Act, (H.R. 612), would establish a DHS grant program to promote cooperative cyber research and development relationship.

Heather Kuldell and Joseph Marks contributed to this report.