Granholm refocuses Energy's cyber shop

The Energy Department is seeking 30% increase in funding for the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response, and plans new roles and new authority for the organization.

Royalty-free stock photo ID: 641963182 By 4kclips Department of Energy in Washington - WASHINGTON DC / COLUMBIA - APRIL 7, 2017

The Energy Department is looking to ramp up and operationalize its cybersecurity capacity with new investments included in the 2022 budget.

Overall, the administration's budget request includes a $189 million increase over 2021 levels in cybersecurity spending, for a total of $642 million. The department has also launched a 100-day plan to assess and review cybersecurity risks to the U.S. electric system.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said at a June 15 hearing the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that the agency is also changing the focus of its Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response, established under the Trump administration, to build out first responder capabilities.

Additionally, Granholm said she would continue to have CESER headed by a career officials, despite calls from both sides of the aisle in the Senate to have a politically appointee lead the office.

In March, eleven senators including Sens. Angus King (I-Maine) and James Risch (R-Idaho) sent a letter to Granholm pressing for the restoration of CESER leadership at the assistant secretary level.

CESER is currently led by Puesh M. Kumar who has the title of acting principal deputy assistiant secretary.

King pressed the point at the hearing, and Granholm noted that CESER, a relatively new agency, has been without political leadership for much of its existence.

"This is an emergency operation, sort of akin to…an emergency response entity that is nonpolitical. It is not partisan, Granholm said at the hearing. "What we'd like to do is to strengthen CESER by elevating it to be a directorate position, but not subject to who's in and who's out -- a professional group that is trusted."

In a June 11 reply to King's letter obtained by FCW, Granholm explained that under the president's budget, CESER is taking on new responsibilities including all department emergency response for the energy sector, leading the administration's 100-day push to address grid cybersecurity, and she said CESER will continue to serve as DOE's representative at National Security Council meetings.

Granholm indicated that CESER's organizational development would improve under career leadership.

"While the organization has made strides without political leadership, the lack of a permanent director has made it difficult to organize and staff-up in a way that a responsive organization should be able to," Granholm wrote.