Rounds to Lead Senate Armed Services Cyber Panel

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D.

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

He pledged to focus on DOD’s role protecting critical infrastructure from cyberattacks.

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., will take the helm of a new cybersecurity panel on the Senate Armed Services Committee, the committee’s leadership announced Wednesday.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., will be the subcommittee’s ranking member.

Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., created the new committee partly to shore up the Armed Services Committee’s role overseeing government cybersecurity in the wake of election season hacks ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin that upended the 2016 presidential campaign.

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The Senate Intelligence Committee will also play a major role in those investigations.

The move also comes shortly after Congress ordered the 7-year-old U.S. Cyber Command be elevated to a full unified combatant command. CYBERCOM previously reported to the Pentagon through U.S. Strategic Command.

The committee will be tasked with “oversight and legislation for policies and programs relating to the Defense Department’s cyber forces and capabilities,” Rounds said in a statement, adding that DOD’s role in responding to and deterring attacks on civilian critical infrastructure was “of particular concern.”

The Homeland Security Department is currently the lead agency for ensuring the protection of critical infrastructure with DOD playing a supporting role when requested. President-elect Donald Trump has suggested DOD may take a more active role in critical infrastructure protection during his administration, though the details of that proposal are not clear.

It would likely require action by Congress for DOD to take a more active role in civilian matters.

Implementing such a shift would require a review of CYBERCOM’s capabilities and funding, the Pentagon’s top cyber policy official, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Cyber Policy Aaron Hughes, told Nextgov recently.

“As recent events have shown, the U.S. is not immune to a cyberattack from hostile foreign actors,” Rounds said in a statement. “Even more alarming, our adversaries have determined that the reward outweighs the risk of launching a cyberattack against our nation.”

McCain briefly considered adding a cyber subcommittee during the early days of the previous Congress soon after Sony Pictures Entertainment was breached by hackers linked to the North Korean government.