Lawmakers Not Briefed About Obama's New $35 Million Cyber Agency

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Featured eBooks

The Government's Artificial Intelligence Reality
What’s Next for Federal Customer Experience
Cloud Smarter

“I believe [the news] is how everyone else found it . … We know about as much as you do.”

House lawmakers were not briefed on the creation of a $35 million federal agency intended to bolster the nation's cyberdefenses, a GOP congressional staffer told National Journal.

The Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center, announced publicly Tuesday, is designed to better coordinate digital intelligence about potential cyber threats among various federal agencies, such as the FBI and National Security Agency.

But lawmakers were not told the agency was being created—and at least some staffers learned of its existence by reading the news this morning, the aide said.

"We were not informed about this," said the congressional Republican close to the intelligence community, who requested anonymity. "I believe [the news] is how everyone else found it. … We know about as much as you do."

A senior White House official pushed back on those claims, saying in a statement that "we notified key staff on the intelligence committee and intend to provide further briefings in the coming weeks."

The GOP aide did say that Congress was aware the Obama administration was asking for "more money for cyberinitiative and cyberconsolidation" as outlined in its new budget released last week. But representatives from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence "didn't say anything about the center when asked specifically" what the money would be used for, the aide said.

A Democratic House Intelligence Committee aide also attempted to downplay any controversy, saying that members were notified "the day before the announcement was made." But a Democratic aide to a lawmaker on the Senate Intelligence Committee said they, too, were not given any notice.

"We did not get an advance heads-up either, but we wouldn't have necessarily expected one for this," the Senate aide said.

The new cybercenter, which does not require congressional approval, will wield $35 million in funding allocated from the 2016 budget proposal, a White House official said, and will use some "existing funds" from the 2015 budget as well. In lieu of congressional authority, the center is being formed through a presidential memorandum under authority granted by the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.

Already, privacy advocates and some security experts are questioning the need for the new center, saying it may be duplicative of the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center housed at the Homeland Security Department.