Lawmakers Propose a Rotational Program for Federal Cyber Workers

CISA Director Christopher Krebs and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speak with reporters in the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center Aug. 22.

CISA Director Christopher Krebs and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speak with reporters in the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center Aug. 22. Cliff Owen/AP

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They also introduced bills to bolster counterterrorism efforts, stop robocallers and keep ZTE in check.

Some agencies have a far more robust cybersecurity workforce than others, and lawmakers want them to spread the wealth.

Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., John Hoeven, R-N.D., Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., on Thursday reintroduced a bill that would create a program that allows government cyber specialists to gain professional experience at multiple agencies. Under the Federal Rotational Cyber Workforce Program Act, feds with cyber experience would be able to do stints at agencies with less robust security infrastructures, which would bolster those organizations’ digital defenses.

By giving feds exposure to a diverse array of security challenges, lawmakers aim to make government cyber jobs more appealing.

The federal government faces mounting cybersecurity threats, from attacks on our critical infrastructure to security breaches that reveal millions of Americans’ personal information,” Peters said in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation will help ensure that the federal government has the skilled workforce in place to combat emerging threats and help federal employees cultivate new skills and expertise in this in-demand field.”

Boarding Up DHS

Senate lawmakers on Thursday also took up legislation to unify the Homeland Security Department’s efforts to combat terrorism.

Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., introduced a bill that would stand up a group to coordinate the agency’s response to threats and advise the secretary on terrorism alerts. The Counterterrorism Advisory Board would be responsible for bringing together intelligence and coordinating counterterrorism efforts across the sprawling agency.

“The Counterterrorism Advisory Board (CTAB) plays a critical role in the Department of Homeland Security’s work to prevent terrorist attacks by identifying and reducing security threats and vulnerabilities,” Rubio said in a statement. House lawmakers passed their own version of the bill last week.

The Latest IT Modernization Subcommittee, aka Hurd’s New Gig

The reorganization of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence spawned a new subcommittee for tech watchers: the Intelligence Modernization and Readiness Subcommittee. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., and Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, serve as chairman and ranking member, respectively.

The subcommittee oversees management issues for all 17 intelligence agencies, including personnel management, security clearance reform and IT modernization.

“I look forward to using my firsthand experience as a former undercover CIA officer, and the knowledge I have gained working with my colleagues on the Intelligence Committee and as chair of the IT Subcommittee, in this new role to make sure our intelligence agencies have the updated technologies and resources they need to meet the challenge of keeping Americans safe in the 21st century,” Hurd said in a statement.

No Carrot, All Stick

A bipartisan pair of senators resurrected legislation to ensure Chinese telecom giant ZTE keeps in line with federal regulations.

In July, the Commerce Department spared ZTE from punishment for sanctions violations that would have effectively put the company out of business. The ZTE Enforcement Review and Oversight Act, reintroduced Wednesday by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., would reimpose those penalties if the department can’t confirm the company is complying with every aspect of the agreement.

“China’s communist government continues to threaten our national security interests through state-directed actors,” Rubio said in a statement. “While it was a mistake to strike a ‘deal’ with ZTE in the first place, this bill would ensure ZTE is held accountable if and when it cheats again.”

Robo-Blocked

The House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman wants to make it easier for consumers to block robocalls and up the penalties for callers who violate federal regulations.

The Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, reintroduced Monday by Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., would allow consumers to opt out of robocalls they previously consented to in the past and give the Federal Communications Commission more authority to pursue scammers for their misdeeds. It would also extend the statute of limitations for prosecuting robocallers from one year to four years.

“Americans are fed up with robocalls,” Pallone said in a statement. “It is incredibly annoying to repeatedly get unwanted calls from people you don’t know and don’t want to talk to.”

Last month, Senate lawmakers also introduced a similar bill that would give the FCC more leeway to prosecute robocallers.

Is This App-ropriate?

Lawmakers want the Homeland Security Department to look into whether foreign-made virtual private network apps could pose national security threats, specifically if they collect data on government employees.

“Because these foreign apps transmit users’ web-browsing data to servers located in or controlled by countries that have an interest in targeting U.S. government employees, their use raises the risk that user data will be surveilled by those foreign governments,” Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wrote in a letter to Chris Krebs, director of the department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

If the agency determined such apps posed a threat to national security, they said, Homeland Security officials should order them banned from government-issued smartphones and devices.

To Throttle or Not to Throttle

A trio of tech-focused senators urged Federal Communications Commission chief Ajit Pai to investigate whether major U.S. mobile carriers were throttling internet traffic without consumers’ knowledge.

Last year, lawmakers asked Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T to defend themselves against allegations that they secretly prioritized connections to YouTube and Netflix, in violation of federal regulations. However, their responses “failed to answer many of [lawmakers] questions,” Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a letter on Wednesday.

“The lack of clear and complete information that the carriers provided in response to congressional inquiries should prompt the commission to investigate the carriers’ practices and determine if they violate existing transparency rules,” they said.

Coming Up

On Tuesday at 9:30 a.m., the House Homeland Security Committee will explore how federal, state and local partnerships can help secure elections.

At 10 a.m., the House Financial Service Committee will examine the effectiveness of sanctions in addressing economic and national security threats.

At 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee will host a closed briefing on U.S. cyber operations during the 2018 midterm elections.

At 10 a.m., the House Energy and Commerce Telecom subpanel will dissect the proposed merger of Sprint and T-Mobile.

Also at 10 a.m., the Senate Homeland Security Committee will mark up a trio of bills to strengthen federal cyber operations

Also at 10 a.m., the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation—the committee with jurisdiction over the Federal Trade Commission—will examine what Congress should do to address risks to consumers and implement data privacy protections.

At 10:30 a.m., the House Veterans Affairs Committee will look into the future and contemplate the Veterans Affairs Department in 2030.

At 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee will review the budget of U.S. Cyber Command.

At 10 a.m, the House Judiciary Committee will also examine the Sprint/T-Mobile merger.

Also at 10 a.m., the House Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection subcommittee will learn about the benefits of diversity in the tech industry.

At the same time, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will take stock of the energy sector’s cyber efforts.

Heather Kuldell contributed to this report.