GOP Senators assail White House for pushing executive order on cybersecurity

Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and John McCain, R-Ariz., co-wrote the piece with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and John McCain, R-Ariz., co-wrote the piece with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. J. Scott Applewhite/AP file photo

McCain, Hutchison and Chambliss op-ed says possible measure "creates an adversarial relationship instead of a cooperative one" with the private sector.

Top Republican critics of a White House-backed Senate cybersecurity bill on Thursday criticized the White House’s threat to issue an executive order on the issue.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed decrying White House plans to “tighten the government's grip.”

No final decision on an executive order has been made, but the White House has said issuing one is among the options possible if Congress remains deadlocked on the cybersecurity legislation. “An executive order is one of a number of measures we’re considering as we look to implement the president’s direction to do absolutely everything we can to better protect our nation against today’s cyberthreats,” Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for President Obama’s National Security Council, said in a statement.

The White House wants more authority to enforce security standards for a limited number of the most critical private computer networks, like those that control the electric grid or chemical plants, but Republicans say that would lead to cumbersome and expensive regulations for businesses.

“Unilateral action in the form of government mandates on the private sector creates an adversarial relationship instead of a cooperative one,” the GOP senators wrote.

The senators and the White House agree that an executive order couldn’t accomplish everything needed to boost cybersecurity. Legislation is needed to revise privacy laws and allow businesses to share more cyberthreat information with each other and the government.

“Cybersecurity is a priority, but anything less than a strong information-sharing bill, based on policies that enhance national security and the economy, will fall short,” the trio wrote.

Privacy groups have raised concerns about information-sharing provisions considered in Congress, but the Republican critics say Democrats' information-sharing proposals go too far to protect privacy by restricting cyber information from being used for other national-security purposes.

“What the country cannot afford is to build bureaucratic walls around information once it is shared with the federal government,” the senators wrote. “The 9/11 Commission was clear about providing government agencies with the ability to speak to each other about the threats facing all aspects of our security.”

Many Democrats have called on Obama to move forward with an executive order. Thursday’s op-ed was not the first time Republicans have opposed such a move. On Tuesday, the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., also criticized the idea of unilateral White House action.