Expectations high for cybersecurity under Obama

The following is an excerpt from an article published by National Journal in its Nov. 10 issue, in which writers and editors highlighted policies that the Obama administration can come to quick agreement on and those that may be harder to find common ground or fund. Here's a look at cybersecurity and fighting terrorism.

The easy areas for Obama will be in cyber-security and soft-power diplomacy.

There's momentum in Congress and the executive branch for a fundamentally new approach to securing cyberspace, starting with the federal government's own information networks. Those systems come under withering, daily assault from hackers and foreign adversaries. Democrats and Republicans agree that current protections are insufficient. And there is bipartisan support, as well as money, for an executive branch plan to shore up defenses. Obama supports appointing a "cyber-czar," who would oversee the government's security portfolio from the National Security Council. Politically, the wind is at Democrats' back on this issue.

Obama, by dint of his internationalist foreign-policy approach, his personal background, and his perceived status as the anti-Bush, is a credible vehicle for changing America's image abroad. The bar is not terribly high: Plenty of Democratic and Republican foreign-policy mavens have lamented that the Bush administration relied inordinately on military force, didn't do enough to encourage political reform in Western-leaning Muslim nations, and treated public diplomacy as a marketing campaign rather than a grassroots effort to forge new alliances with key influencers abroad. The resurgence of so-called soft power will likely mark the first year of Obama's foreign policy. Success isn't guaranteed, of course, but expectations are high that his administration will make the effort.

Improving transportation security will be harder. Since September 12, 2001, the government has spent enormous amounts of money and time trying to keep terrorists from exploiting the transportation system -- in the air, at sea, and on land. And for all that effort, it has accomplished only marginal improvements. Seaports and shipping containers remain particularly vulnerable to tampering. Congressional Democrats have used their majority position to demand nearly 100 percent screening of cargo in the United States -- essentially an impossible task. Now they don't have the Bush administration to accuse of stonewalling. Transportation security is extraordinarily expensive and cannot be guaranteed. It can also impede commerce, something that no one will find palatable during a global economic recession.

Disaster preparedness is another difficult challenge. States and localities are reeling from the financial crisis. As they watch their budgets shrink, the federal government will have a hard time persuading them to spend scarce money on disaster preparedness. It's not that state and local governments don't view hurricane preparation or flood mitigation as a necessity. But, because of an extraordinary list of priorities, something has to give. One potential twist: Democrats have discussed pouring money into state and local governments to fill budget gaps. In that case, disaster-preparedness projects that may have stalled could be revitalized, and help create new jobs.