GAO Promotes Need for Public-Private ‘Partnerships’ in Cybersecurity Policy

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A Government Accountability Office official says the watchdog agency consulted with private sector entities in producing a report of 12 areas it’s planning to focus on in the next decade.

The current trend in national security threats imply public-private partnerships are needed to protect U.S. critical infrastructure from cyberattacks, the Government Accountability Office said in a report stemming from the agency’s plan for the next five to fifteen years. 

“Government partnerships with the private sector will be essential … to assuring cybersecurity and protection of critical infrastructure like pipelines, communication networks and transportation,” GAO wrote in a report published March 15, along with a promotional video and long term plans developed through its Center for Strategic Foresight.

The insight that “public-private partnerships” will be important for cybersecurity is not surprising, but the term has become synonymous with voluntary arrangments in policy circles on the issue. And lawmakers are currently reassessing the effectiveness of the longstanding U.S. approach of avoiding regulatory action in the space.  

Expanding on trends regarding “security implications for an increasingly digital world,” the report also weighs potential regulatory action against concerns about individual privacy.

“Governments and society will continue to confront questions of how best to balance security and safety with personal freedoms,” GAO wrote. “Defining and agreeing on appropriate regulatory responses will be a challenge when facing rapidly changing technologies. Failure to develop and employ effective monitoring technologies to improve public safety in a balanced way could result in increased violations of privacy and civil liberties.” 

“Nobody can predict the future. But we can analyze trends and identify emerging issues that will likely affect the federal government and society in the next five to 15 years,” GAO Managing Director Stephen Sanford said in the video. “GAO does just that in providing context for our strategic plan. We consulted with public, private and academic experts to help identify and research twelve trends that will help us inform Congress and agency officials.”

GAO did not provide a response by deadline to a request for the identity of the consultants. 

Other trends GAO covered in the report include those regarding: global and domestic national security threats; fiscal sustainability and debt; preparing for catastrophic biological incidents; racial and ethnic disparities; technology and the innovation economy; changes in work; the future of global supply chains; online learning and technology education; evolving health technologies; sustainable development; and an evolving space environment.