Lawmakers: How Many Cyber Threat Centers Does the Government Need?

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. Susan Walsh/AP

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Congress questions HHS' cyber threat center and other things they did under the shadow of the American Health Care Act.

The Health and Human Services Department’s cyber threat sharing center hasn’t reached initial operating capacity yet, but a pair of senators already wonder if it’s a redundant effort.

“It’s not clear that this new [HHS] cyber center is necessary or that it adds value,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said at a Wednesday Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on cyber regulations.

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McCaskill and Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., want Secretary Tom Price to explain why the fledgling Health Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center is necessary  and how it will interact with (and differ) from the Homeland Security Department's National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center. Both centers recently worked together to coordinate response to the WannaCry ransomware outbreak.

Ready, Aim, Fire

President Donald Trump on Friday said he was “very proud” to sign a bill to let Veterans Affairs Department leadership quickly fire employees. The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act allows the department’s secretary to fire, suspend or demote an employee with only 15 days' notice and shortens the time frame for an appeals process.

In other workforce news, the House on Tuesday passed Rep. Bernie Thompson’s Department of Homeland Security Morale, Recognition, Learning and Engagement, or MORALE, Act. The bill would create a committee focused on employee engagement and create nonmonetary awards to combat the department’s chronic ranking as one of the worst places to work in government.

How Safe is Our Power Grid?

A group of 19 Democratic senators wrote the president urging him to have the Energy Department look into how the power grid would stand up to cyberattacks from Russians. The letter follows a DHS report about CrashOverride, malware the department said could be modified to target U.S. systems. Part of their concern stems from the president’s proposed budget, which would reduce funds to the Energy office responsible for fortifying power grids by 40 percent.

A Slice of Cyber in Annual Defense Bill

The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities on Wednesday passed its part of the National Defense Authorization Act with several cyber-related measures, including creating strategies to counter North Korean and Chinese activities, funding a $10 million cyber scholarship program, and requiring the department to notify Congress of all “sensitive military cyber operations.” The department’s CIO would also be tasked with coming up with policies to reduce supply chain risk for the hardware and software it buys.

Senate’s Armed Services subcommittees will continue to hammer out their parts of NDAA, including the cybersecurity subcommittee in a closed-door meeting Tuesday.

Coming Up

On Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will mark up a baker’s dozen of bills about self-driving cars and which agencies will be regulating them.

The full Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday will discuss the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act—the law that allows the intelligence community to surveil foreign intelligence surveillance targets in the U.S.—with officials from the FBI, Justice Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The Senate Intelligence Committee holds another hearing Wednesday on Russian election meddling, though this time it will focus on European elections.