The Russia Hearing That Wasn’t and What Else Congress Did

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Health care may have dominated the week, but lawmakers also tackled internet privacy rights and how DHS buys tech.

The House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election devolved into chaos this week with Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., abruptly canceling a March 28 open hearing where top law enforcement and intelligence officials from the Obama administration were scheduled to testify.

Ranking member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., charged that cancellation was at the request of a Trump administration embarrassed by earlier public revelations and an effort to “choke off public info.”

Those dueling press conferences came a day after Nunes apologized for briefing media and the White House about intelligence documents he called “legal” but “troubling” that included names of Trump administration officials before sharing the information with his own committee.

Schiff and other Democrats in the House and Senate roundly castigated Nunes for that judgment and even some Republicans, such as Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., applauded the apology.

Scheduled to testify at that March 28 hearing were former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates. Nunes said the cancellation was in order to make room for a closed hearing with National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers and FBI Director James Comey who confirmed at a Tuesday hearing his agency is investigating possible contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian spies.

Schiff called that explanation a “dodge.”

Nunes also announced Friday that former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort has volunteered to testify before the committee.

Nevertheless, the Leaks Persisted

Meanwhile, House Republicans continued to press on leaks from the intelligence community, which was a major focus of Tuesday’s hearing with Comey and Rogers. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and three Judiciary subcommittee chairs sent a letter to top intel leaders Friday expressing “deep concern” about the leaks and fretting they could undermine efforts to renew a controversial spying authority set to expire this year, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

For Sale: Your Web Browsing Data

The Senate took another step in repealing the Federal Communication Commission’s broadband privacy rules that prevent internet service providers from selling its customers personal information, including which websites they visit. The rules would require customers opt-in for their information to be used for marketing and ad targeting purposes. Parts of the rule were supposed to go into effect this month until Chairman Ajit Pai stayed the order.

By using the Congressional Review Act to repeal “recently passed rules,” FCC also will be prevented from writing similar rules in the future. The act passed with a vote of 50-48 along party lines and may be taken up by the House next week.

Smart Vehicles May Be Smart But Are They Secure?

Senate Democrats reintroduced two bills this week aimed at shoring up the cybersecurity of connected cars and airplanes.

The Security and Privacy in Your Car, or SPY Car, Act, introduced by Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., would require the government to develop security standards and a cybersecurity rating system to help consumers make better choices when buying vehicles with internet connections.

The Cybersecurity Standards for Aircraft to Improve Resilience, or Cyber AIR, Act, would heighten disclosure requirements for information about cyberattacks against aircraft and their control systems.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will examine the level of automation used in self-driving cars March 28.

Senators Urge Cyber Focus at Commerce, Transportation

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., urged Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to make cybersecurity a “top priority” in a pair of Thursday letters. The letters, also signed by Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., cited auditors’ reports pointing out weaknesses in the agency’s information systems.

U.S.-Israel Cyber Cooperation

Legislation introduced Thursday would establish a grant program managed by the Homeland Security Department to promote cooperative cyber research between the U.S. and Israel. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., among others.

DHS' Buying Power

The House advanced several bills potentially reshaping how the Homeland Security Department and its components buy technology. The DHS Acquisition Authorities Act would designate the undersecretary of management as the chief acquisition officer responsible for programs about $300 million. The Transparency in Technology Acquisitions Act would require the Transportation Security Administration give its oversight committees advance notice for any changes to its strategic technology investment plan. Others would increase program oversight and require a flexible, multiyear strategy.

This is What It Costs to Block Porn from Federal Computers

The Congressional Budget Office weighed in on the Eliminating Pornography from Agencies Act, H.R. 680, introduced (again and again) by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.

“CBO estimates that implementing the bill would not have a significant cost because the viewing of pornography using government computers is already prohibited,” the report said.

One Small Step For Man

President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, S. 442, into law, allowing $19.5 billion in spending. The law prioritizes human space exploration to Mars and requires a plan to get the agency’s IT and information security in order

Coming Up

The House Homeland Security Committee’s cyber panel will get an update on DHS’ efforts to secure federal networks Tuesday. This is the committee’s second cyber hearing in as many weeks. Witnesses have not been announced yet. The same day, Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will look into cyber threats to the electric grid.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will dive into federal IT acquisition March 28 and how D.C.’s Metro is doing after SafeTrack on Wednesday.

Heather Kuldell and Joseph Marks contributed to this report.