Cyber Pro Confirmed as Homeland Security Secretary

Kirstjen Nielsen testifies during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee hearing on her nomination to be Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017.

Kirstjen Nielsen testifies during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee hearing on her nomination to be Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Kirstjen Nielsen has a more extensive cybersecurity background than any previous Homeland Security leader.

The government’s top civilian cybersecurity agency has a permanent leader again more than four months after former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly left the department to become President Donald Trump’s chief of staff.

The Senate voted 62 to 37 to confirm Kristjen Nielsen, Kelly’s former chief of staff, to be the next Homeland Security secretary Tuesday evening.

“I am confident that Kirstjen’s mission-focused style of leadership will help her succeed in leading the men and women of DHS and ensuring we reform and improve the department,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said in a statement. “I also want to thank Acting Secretary Elaine Duke for her tremendous leadership. I look forward to our continued partnership in striving to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of DHS.”

Nielsen is the first Homeland Security secretary to have previously worked at the department she’ll soon run. She also worked extensively as a private sector cybersecurity consultant and served on President George W. Bush’s Homeland Security Council.

Nielsen’s confirmation was delayed because of concerns about the White House imposing improper pressure on the department over immigration rules.

Nielsen’s background in cybersecurity could be helpful in recruiting top cyber talent to the department, former officials told Nextgov. Her previous work at the White House will be an aid as she lobbies for resources and urges other departments and agencies to raise their cyber protections, they said.   

“DHS plays an important role in closing the cyber exposure gap through efforts like the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM) program, which helps agencies get real visibility into their networks and systems,” Amit Yoran, Tenable CEO and a former Homeland Security official said in a statement.  “I am confident that Kirstjen has the cyber chops to help bring government cybersecurity into a new era.”

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