House Appropriations Panel Should Step Up Cyber Oversight, Member Urges

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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The panel should hold its first cyber-specific budget hearing this year, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger says.

The House Appropriations Committee’s homeland security panel should take a far more active role overseeing the Homeland Security Department’s cyber operations this year, according to a report Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., sent to fellow committee members Monday.

The report outlines several key areas the panel should focus on, including the threat of adversary nations stealing U.S. government hacking tools, cyber threats against industrial control systems that manage chemical and gas plants and ways to surge information sharing about cyber threats within industry sectors.

The panel should also hold its first-ever cybersecurity-specific budget hearing this year while the Appropriations Committee mulls the administration’s 2019 fiscal year budget request, the report states.

Ruppersberger, whose district includes the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland, was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee from 2011 to 2015, where he focused extensively on cyber threats.

His report, which is based on meetings with more than 50 current and former cybersecurity officials from government and industry, follows a recent trend of congressional committees taking a more active role in cybersecurity. The Senate Armed Services Committee, for example, added a new cybersecurity subcommittee last year.

The homeland security appropriations panel should also review an administration proposal to transfer Homeland Security’s cyber research and development work from the department’s science and technology wing to its cyber operations division, which is currently called the National Protection and Programs Directorate, Ruppersberger’s report states.

That move has been criticized by numerous lawmakers and is barred in the Senate version of a Homeland Security reauthorization bill. Critics worry that, given the urgency of cyber operations work, research and development will get lost in the shuffle.

Finally, the committee should examine ways to fundamentally reorganize how the government manages cybersecurity, the report states.

The reorganization may involve elevating the Homeland Security Department’s cyber mission to an even greater degree than it would be under the current reauthorization bills in the House and Senate, the report states.

Another likely area for improvement is increased cooperation between Homeland Security and the intelligence community, the report states, including the department possibly acting as a conduit between intelligence community resources and the private sector.

Ruppersberger first mentioned the report during a mid-April Appropriations Committee hearing, where he also proposed a cyber-specific subcommittee hearing. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who was testifying, said she supported the idea of the hearing.