Shutdown Would Delay Obama Cyber Reforms

Work on a White House legislative proposal for cybersecurity reform would be delayed by a government shutdown, Obama administration officials told senators.

Judiciary Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who recently lambasted the administration for stalling passage by withholding judgment on the issue, pressed officials this week to provide timing for when they expect to deliver an offer.

"I don't want to put a date on it particularly with the prospect of a government shutdown looming, but I think we're very close, in a matter of some weeks away, from being able to share proposals with Congress," Cameron F. Kerry, the Commerce Department's general counsel, said during a full committee hearing that focused on separate Internet privacy legislation.

Unless Democrats and Republicans can negotiate agency funding levels by Friday, all non-essential government activities will stop when a temporary spending measure expires at the end of the day.

Whitehouse took a long pause after Kerry's answer, before replying, "I hadn't thought of it in the context of the government shutdown -- pretty significant national security cost to precipitate with a government shutdown." Kerry said he agreed.

Talks between lawmakers and the administration on enacting network defense legislation ground to a halt about a year ago, after the White House retreated to study the subject privately through an interagency review.

During that time, committees and individual members in the House and Senate introduced a slew of conflicting measures -- some would empower the Homeland Security Department to oversee civilian networks while others would centralize cyberspace operations at the Pentagon.

"It's very hard with the discrepancies between where one committee or another wants to go to resolve those discrepancies without a position being taken by the administration," Whitehouse said. During the past year, "discussions back and forth between the executive and legislative branch have been reduced to, as best I can tell, zero."

Kerry said officials largely have resolved the basic issues and the more detailed proposals are in the final phase of circulating through agencies.